Iran’s international cartoon exhibition and contest mocking Jews and the Holocaust has just concluded. It provided a prominent hate-filled platform to those who deny or make fun of the genocide inflicted on Jews by the Nazis and who seek to compare Israel today to Nazi Germany. One hundred fifty “cartoonists” from 50 countries submitted entries. The exhibition provided a perfect bookend to the message emblazoned by the Iranian regime on missiles it test fired last March, “Israel must be wiped out.”
Western-educated Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif played the free speech card to defend the right of the organizers to put on their show, while denying that his government had anything to do with it.
During an April 2016 interview with the New Yorker, Zarif said the exhibition was organized by a non-governmental organization “that is not controlled by the Iranian government.” Zarif claimed, “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.”
A well-known exiled Iranian cartoonist, Nikahang Kowsar, laid bare Zarif’s Big Lie in a blog post published by the Times of Israel:
“The claim that the Iranian government doesn’t control this platform for spewing hate and denying the Holocaust is a pure lie, coming from a pathological liar whose previous absurd claim, exactly a year before this one, was ‘we do not jail people for their opinions.’
The director of the Iranian Cartoon House, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards, runs the contest by the rules set by the Culture and Arts Center of Tehran’s Municipality. Cartoon House is not allowed to hold International competitions and contests without permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.”
Even “the speaker of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance denied Zarif’s claim,” according to the exiled Iranian cartoonist Kowsar.
As the Iranian writer Majid Mohammadi pointed out in a detailed briefing published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the institutions involved in the exhibit are “all organized, financed, and managed under the supreme leader’s office, his appointed bodies, and the executive branch headed by the president.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has set the tone for the exhibition’s hate-filled themes. Khamenei has questioned whether the Holocaust is “a reality or not.” He marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day last January by posting a video in which he said, “The Zionists and the Nazis have a lot in common.” This is the same Islamic fanatic who so often uses the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler and Goebbels to describe the Jewish state.
Al-Alam, a news channel owned by the state-owned media corporation Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, provided plenty of coverage of the exhibition. According to its reporter, “the largest and most symbolic picture in exhibition” depicted a kite in Palestinian national colors flying above brick walls arranged as a swastika. The walls “allude to the Israeli occupation’s invasion of occupied Palestine,” Al-Alam’s reporter said. “The kite represents Palestinian childhood and innocence.” And the not too subtle image of the swastika? That would be in keeping with other works in the exhibition juxtaposing Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The exhibition’s secretary, Massoud Seyed Shojayee Tabatabayee, said that it was not the purpose of the exhibition to confirm or deny whether the Holocaust occurred. Tabatabayee claimed that the exhibition was intended to point out how the Jewish state was inflicting its own version of a holocaust on the Palestinian people. No doubt, that was the central message of a work which showed, as described by Arab News, “a map of the Middle East with a coffin with the word ‘Holocaust’ flattening Palestinians in place of what should be the country of Israel.”
Iran’s brand of anti-Semitism does not just indulge in Holocaust denial anymore. Instead, it twists the narrative of the unique tragedy suffered by the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis to both play down its historic importance and to transform Jews from the real victims of a horrible genocide into imagined oppressors responsible for an imagined holocaust against an imagined multitude of Palestinian “victims.” Meanwhile, the regime actually threatening another holocaust is Iran itself, against the people of Israel. It was one of Khamenei’s senior officials who boasted how Iran’s missiles can bring about a "big holocaust" in Israel.
Perhaps realizing that he was on thin ice with his denials of government complicity in the Iranian-hosted anti-Semitic cartoon exhibition, Zarif resorted to a double standard argument, the usual ploy of authoritarian regimes trying to justify their own wrong-doing. “When you stop your own organizations from doing things, then you can ask others to do likewise,” Zarif declared to his New Yorker interviewer. “Why does the United States have the Ku Klux Klan?” he asked rhetorically. “Is the government of the United States responsible for the fact that there are racially hateful organizations in the United States?”
Zarif is a master at manipulating Western democratic ideas to serve Iran’s illiberal agenda, including by creating false comparisons. Just as the U.S. government leaves the Ku Klux Klan alone, even if it spews racially charged rhetoric, so too the Iranian regime leaves the organizers of the cartoon exhibition alone, Zarif argued.
Spare us Zarif’s attempt to use free expression as a cover for rationalizing the Jew hatred exhibition. Unlike his dictatorial regime, the U.S. government does not imprison, torture and execute political dissidents. Iranian Jews have been executed for allegedly supporting Israel. Jewish leaders in Ian have been forced to denounce Israel and participate in anti-Zionist demonstrations.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other feckless Western leaders point to Zarif as living proof that the Iranian regime contains “moderates” whom can be reasoned with. The result was the disastrous nuclear deal, negotiated principally between a gullible Kerry and a fraudulent Zarif.
If the Holocaust denial cartoon exhibition and contest were simply an Iranian-only affair, it would not be so much of a concern. However, it became truly international in scope.
"We have witnessed the eye-catching participation of the western and European cartoonists in this edition of the exhibition, with the French artists showing the largest presence," the exhibition’s secretary, Massoud Seyed Shojayee Tabatabayee said.
Works were also submitted from countries such as Australia, Brazil, China, Indonesia and Colombia.
Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova strongly condemned the exhibition. Bokova stated, "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."
However, UNESCO itself is part of the problem. Its Executive Committee, for example, has acceded to Arab demands to deny recognition of the Jewish people’s historic ties to their holy sites such as the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. A resolution adopted by the Executive Committee in April referred to the Western Wall as Al-Buraq Plaza and to the Temple Mount as the Al-Aksa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif. Iran is a member of UNESCO’s Executive Committee. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “The U.N. is rewriting a basic part of human history and has once again proven that there is no low to which it will not stoop.”
The hateful cartoons in Iran’s exhibition, drawing entries from 50 countries, reflect a global movement, including the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state. Indeed, Omar Barghouti, a founding member of BDS, expressed this core belief when he told a college audience that Jews are not a people entitled to self-determination. When asked to explain his accusation that Israel is an apartheid state even though Israeli Arabs hold high governmental positions, he responded that there were Jews in the Nazi government too.
BDS’s Nazi comparisons did not stop there. According to a posting on BDS’s website from an Al Jazeera column, boycotting Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians is akin to “the anti-Nazi Jewish boycott of 1933 to end Nazi racial separatism.”
College campuses are also awash with displays of Jew hatred, as documented by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which has launched a campaign to expose it. Pro-Palestinian activists, always ready to shout down supporters of Israel, took great offense when the Freedom Center distributed a series of posters calling to “Stop the Jew Hatred” on several California state university campuses, including San Diego State University.
Free speech as defined by Pro-Palestinian activists, just as is the case with the repressive Iranian regime, does not apply to anyone with an opposing point of view. Whether dealing with anti-Semitic cartoons in Iran, hate speech on college campuses or anti-Israel boycotts, the best remedy is truthful speech, loud and clear. Cowering in silence is not an option for those committed to protecting the Jewish homeland against its many enemies worldwide sworn to its destruction.