(CNSNews.com) – Organizers of a Holocaust-themed cartoon contest in Iran at the weekend disputed accusations of Holocaust denial, saying its aim was to highlight the double standards of the West as seen in publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed.
A theme common to many of the sketches displayed in the “Second International Holocaust Cartoon and Caricature Contest exhibition” was an attempt to equate the Nazis and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – who appears in caricature in some of the cartoons on display – told cabinet ministers Sunday that in a phone conversation with Secretary of State John Kerry he had called on every country in the world to condemn Iran’s behavior.
“It must be understood what our problem with Iran is,” Netanyahu said. “It is not just its policy of subversion and aggression in the region; it is the values on which it is based. It denies and belittles the Holocaust and it is also preparing another Holocaust.”
“We denounce any Holocaust denial and trivialization as inflammatory and abhorrent,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner, traveling with Kerry in Saudi Arabia. “It is insulting to the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust.”
The chief contest organizer, Massoud Shojai-Tabatabai, at a press conference Saturday repeated earlier statements that Holocaust-denial was not the aim of the event.
“We are not denying the Holocaust, but we want to mention the oppression of Palestinian people,” he said.
Pointing to the publication in Western media over the years of cartoons satirizing Mohammed, Shojai-Tabatabai said Western countries were exercising double standards.
Questioning why Islam’s prophet should be an acceptable subject for caricaturists but not the Holocaust, Iran held its first international Holocaust-themed cartoon contest in 2006, after European newspapers controversially published cartoons portraying Mohammed.
(A similar but smaller event was held last year, although the current one is being called the second international contest.)
Criticizing both the contest and the administration’s Iran policy, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said, “this is the Iran that Secretary Kerry says is ‘open for business.’”
“It denies the Holocaust, holds international businessmen hostage, and launches missiles stamped with the message ‘Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth,’” Royce said. “Since the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement went into effect, Iran has only grown more belligerent.”
Offering a total of $50,000 in prize money, the contest has attracted hundreds of entries from 50 countries, according to the organizers. The exhibition runs through May 30, when the winners will be announced.
The event has drawn criticism from U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) head Irina Bokova, who said Friday “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,” added Bokova, who is campaigning to be the next U.N. secretary-general.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif last month tried to distance the regime from the contest, claiming it was organized by non-governmental groups with no government support.
Asked by the New Yorker why the government permits the contest to be held, Zarif asked whether the U.S. should be held responsible for the existence of the Ku Klux Klan.
He also said that neither he nor President Hasan Rouhani planned to attend.
Critics of the regime say it heavily restricts free speech and has a history of shutting down websites and media outlets it disagrees with. Iran is in 169th place in the annual Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of 180 countries according to freedom allowed to journalists.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum challenged Zarif’s assertions, noting that organizations associated with the event were “sponsored or supported by government entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.”
It also recalled that the 2006 contest had been endorsed and supported by government officials and agencies, and urged Zarif to condemn Holocaust denial.
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Nazis’ systematic murder of six million Jews a “myth,” used as justification for the establishment of the state of Israel.
In 2014, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again questioned the Holocaust, describing it in a Persian new year speech as “an event whose reality is uncertain and, if it happened, it’s uncertain how it happened.”
On Holocaust Memorial Day last January, Khamenei’s official website posted a video quoting those words from two years earlier, and featuring photos of notorious Holocaust deniers and revisionists.