Iranian TV: Holocaust cartoon fest boosts freedom of speech
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Iranian TV: Holocaust cartoon fest boosts freedom of speech

Tehran-based station says foreign artists ‘hastened to send their satirical works in order to denounce the Israeli crimes’

An Iranian television news report about the country’s current Holocaust cartoon contest described how one section was “dedicated to drawings of people like Hitler and [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu” and that the goal was to “enhance” freedom of speech.

The segment on Al-Alam TV, an Arabic-language station based in Tehran, was broadcast Sunday and covered the previous day’s opening of the Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest, an event that has been condemned by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and by the US State Department.

An English-language subtitled version of the television report was provided Tuesday by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Along with footage of the opening ceremony, reporter Salim Issa explained that “the goals of the contest are to enhance the culture of freedom of speech by means of modern art and to open new horizons for cultural and artistic cooperation and exchange between Iranian and foreign artists.”

Issa highlighted “the largest and most symbolic picture in exhibition,” a drawing showing a kite in Palestinian national colors flying above gray, imposing brick walls arranged in a swastika.

The walls, Issa narrated, “allude to the Israeli occupation’s invasion of occupied Palestine. The kite represents Palestinian childhood and innocence.”

One of the entries in Iran's Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest, May 2016. (YouTube/MEMRI TV)
One of the entries in Iran’s Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest, May 2016. (YouTube/MEMRI TV)

“Artists from countries like Australia, Brazil, China, Indonesia, and Colombia hastened to send their satirical works in order to denounce the Israeli crimes through this competition which is headed by three Iranian judges and by foreign overseers,” she asserted.

Another section of the exhibit, which runs for two weeks, is “dedicated to drawings of people like Hitler and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of the Israeli occupation, who appeared in one painting wielding a sword like an ISIS terrorist.”

Cartoonists from various countries, including France, are competing in the contest, which is organized by non-governmental bodies with strong support from Iran’s regime. Some $50,000 in prize money will go to 16 finalists, with the top winner receiving $12,000.

A drawing submitted to a Holocaust denial cartoon contest sponsored by Iran in 2015.
A drawing submitted to a Holocaust denial cartoon contest sponsored by Iran in 2015.

Some 150 works from 50 countries are on display. Most of the works criticize Israel for using the Holocaust to distract the international community from its treatment of the Palestinians.

Organizer Shojai Tabtabai told Al-Alma TV that the “exhibition constitutes a response to the publication of cartoons by the French Charlie Hebdo magazine, which affronted the Prophet Muhammad, as well as an expression of (our opposition) to the massacres perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

In January 2015 two Islamist gunmen, who were brothers, attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people allegedly in revenge for the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

A drawing submitted to a Holocaust denial cartoon contest sponsored by Iran in 2015.
A drawing submitted to a Holocaust denial cartoon contest sponsored by Iran in 2015.

The executive secretary of the event, Mohammad Habibi, explained that “one of the most important aspects of the contest is to present the suffering and the injustice. That is why we have chosen to express the Palestinian cause by means of cartoons and animated films.”

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Saudi Arabia, said Sunday that Washington was concerned the contest could “be used as a platform for Holocaust denial and revisionism and egregiously anti-Semitic speech, as it has in the past.”

Over the weekend UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said of the contest that “such an initiative, which aims at a mockery of the genocide of the Jewish people, a tragic page of humanity’s history, can only foster hatred and incite to violence, racism and anger”

“This contest goes against the universal values of tolerance and respect, and runs counter to the action led by UNESCO to promote Holocaust education, to fight anti-Semitism and denial,” she added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday also criticized the event, saying Iran “denies the Holocaust, mocks the Holocaust, and is preparing another Holocaust.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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