The United States on Sunday denounced the “abhorrent” Holocaust-themed cartoon contest mocking the Nazi genocide of six million Jews during World War II currently taking place in Iran.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Saudi Arabia, said 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.”
“Such offensive speech should be condemned by the authorities and civil society leaders rather than encouraged. We denounce any Holocaust denial and trivialization as inflammatory and abhorrent. It is insulting to the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust,” Toner said.
The denial or questioning of the Holocaust is widespread in the Middle East, where many regard it as a pretext Israel used for its creation.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu railed at Iran for holding the annual event, charging that the Islamic Republic was “preparing another Holocaust” against the Jewish people.
Iran “denies the Holocaust, mocks the Holocaust, and is preparing another Holocaust,” he told ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, “and I think all the countries of the world need to stand up and condemn this unequivocally.”
Iran has long backed armed groups committed to Israel’s destruction and its leaders have called for it to be wiped off the map. Israel fears that Iran’s nuclear program is designed to threaten its very existence. But Netanyahu said it was more than Iran’s belligerent policies that Israel opposed, but its values.
Israel’s problem with Iran, the prime minister said, “isn’t just its subversive, aggressive policy in the region. It’s the values on which it’s based.”
The annual contest lampooning the Holocaust features around 150 works from 50 countries. It began Saturday and is running for the next two weeks.
On Saturday, one of contest organizers rejected criticism that the competition was aimed at denying Nazi crimes, but then equated the Holocaust with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“Holocaust means mass killing,” said contest organizer Masuod Shojai-Tabatabai. “We are witnessing the biggest killings by the Zionist regime in Gaza and Palestine.”
He said the purpose of the Tehran event was not to deny the Holocaust but rather to criticize alleged Western double standards regarding free expression — and particularly as a response to depictions of the Prophet Muhammad by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and others. The exhibit featured some 150 works from 50 countries, with many portraying Israel as using the Holocaust to distract from the suffering of the Palestinians, and others comparing Netanyahu to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The contest was organized by nongovernmental bodies with strong support from Iran’s hard-liners. A previous contest in 2006 got a boost from then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who referred to the Holocaust as a “myth” and repeatedly predicted Israel’s demise.
Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker that his government “does not support, nor does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that you’re talking about.”
Zarif claimed the festival is organized by a nongovernmental organization “that is not controlled by the Iranian government.”
His claim has been challenged by Iranian-Canadian cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar.