Drawing criticism, exhibition of anti-Israel cartoons opens in Tehran

Published May 15th, 2016 - 09:14 GMT
An Iranian man takes a photo of an anti-Israel cartoon displayed at the second international exhibition of drawing and cartoons on the Holocaust in Tehran on May 14, 2016. (AFP/Atta Kenare)
An Iranian man takes a photo of an anti-Israel cartoon displayed at the second international exhibition of drawing and cartoons on the Holocaust in Tehran on May 14, 2016. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

An international contest for anti-Israel cartoons - some of them equating actions of the Israeli government with the Holocaust - opened in Tehran, drawing over 150 entries from more than 50 countries. Opening on Palestinians' Nakba day, event organizers insisted the show was intended to criticize Israeli policies and what they see as double standards when it comes to freedom of speech. The event, drawing criticism from Israel and its allies, comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates who have tried to improve ties with the West following last year’s landmark nuclear deal.

Iran has also criticized depictions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), arguing that Western countries tolerate expression deemed offensive to Islam but not the criticism of Israel. “We have never been after denying of the Holocaust or ridiculing its victims,” contest organizer Masuod Shojai Tabatabaei said in a speech opening the event. “If you find a single design that ridicules victims or denies [the Holocaust], we are ready to close the exhibition,” he said. “Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust were subject to oppression by Nazis.”

Denial or questioning of the Holocaust is widespread in the Middle East, where some believe it has been used as a pretext for the creation of Israel and to excuse Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians. “Holocaust means mass killing,” Tabatabaei said. “We are witnessing the biggest killings by the Zionist regime in Gaza and Palestine.”

Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the event.

Some 150 works from 50 countries are on display in the contest, which opened on the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948.  Many of the works portrayed Israel as using the Holocaust to distract from the suffering of the Palestinians, and many compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler. Some $50,000 in prize money will go to 16 finalists, with the top winner receiving $12,000. The exhibition runs through May 30.

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian government on the contest. But Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who played a central role in the nuclear negotiations, told The New Yorker magazine in April that the contest was organized by a group “that is not controlled by the Iranian government. Nor is it endorsed by the Iranian government.”

Asked why Iran has allowed the exhibition to go ahead, Zarif said: “Why does the United States have the Ku Klux Klan? Is the government of the United States responsible for the fact that there are racially hateful organizations in the United States? Don’t consider Iran a monolith. The Iranian government does not support, nor does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that you’re talking about.”

Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this month as well as the 68th anniversary of its foundation. Last year Tabatabaei also organized an international exhibition of anti-Daesh cartoons in which caricatures of Arab and Western leaders were displayed alongside leaders of the militant group.

Editor's note: This article has been edited from the source material.


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