The Iranian organizers of the Holocaust Cartoon Contest claim that the issue of the Holocaust has become a social taboo which stifles any discussion or any questioning as to the Holocaust itself and that the Holocaust paved the way to the existence of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. The critics of the contest, on the other hand, state their case which is also easy to understand: the Holocaust was an undeniable anti-Semitic catastrophe and anti-Zionism is just a politically correct form of anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, these two polarized views are unbridgeable even on a theoretical level and the existence of the contest only increases the chasm between the two narratives. It seems impossible to choose a middle ground in this issue and in order to decide which side of the chasm one stands, the issue has to be examined on two levels: the context and the content.
The Iranian House of Cartoon which organizes the Holocaust Cartoon Contest is sponsored by the Municipality of Tehran and states its goal as “the recognition, upgrading and propagation of cartoon and caricature in Iran and World“. This all sounds positive but it’s noteworthy that the contest is simultaneously promoted through another Iranian site called “ResistArt” which is much more specific as to the essence of the content it publishes and its goal to “spread of Resistance Culture and the values of Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense (and) making a field for discussion and speaking between active and creative artists in culture and art of resistance in Iran and other countries by emphasize on Islamic World”.
“Resistance”, in this context, mirrors the Revolutionary Ideals of the Iranian regime against the “imperialistic”, “colonial”, “oppressive” West and more specifically, the US and Israel. Other contests include the “International Yemen Cartoon & Caricature Contest” (attacking Saudi Arabia), the “International Daesh Cartoon Contest” (attacking Saudi Arabia and the US) and the “Down with America” cartoon contest (attacking the US). From this point of view, the cartoons and the contests are less about creative freedom and more about political propaganda aimed to serve the goals of the regime.
Now, what about the Holocaust Cartoon Contest? Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, the Secretary of the Holocaust Cartoon Contest explains that the contest is not meant to “deny or prove (the) Holocaust” but is meant to raise questions such as “why should the oppressed Palestinian people pay compensation for the Holocaust” and why doesn’t the world designate a “piece of Germany to give to the Jews”? Furthermore, Tabatabai explains that a main theme of the contest is the linkage between Adolph Hitler and Benjamin Netanyahu and linking the Holocaust in Germany during World War 2 to the “Holocaust” in Gaza.
Since Tehran has repeatedly made it clear that a) the Palestinian cause is an incremental part of the Revolutionary Ideals of the regime in Tehran and that b) Tehran wants to destroy Israel, one way or another, it’s clear that the Holocaust contest isn’t really about free speech or artistic freedom but it is a propaganda tool by the Iranian regime meant to achieve this goal. When questioned on the issue of the contest, Iran’s FM Javad Zarif complicated the issue by unsuccessfully trying to distance the regime from the contest when it is all too obvious that without the regime’s backing, such a contest would not exist.
Now, it’s time to check out the cartoons themselves in order to understand what are the messages being spread through this contest.
The cartoons can be liberally categorized into seven intertwining categories:
Linking the Holocaust with the suffering of the Palestinians: These cartoons equate and link the Holocaust in Germany to the “Holocaust” of the Palestinian people. The difference between a planned genocide of millions of people based on religion and the causalties of war between two warring neighbors is conveniently forgotten.
The suffering of the Palestinians: These cartoons portray the plight and suffering of the Palestinians although the linkage with the Holocaust, other than the suffering of a people, is not clear at all.
Demonizing Netanyahu: These cartoons portray Netanyahu as Hitler, as a friend of Hitler, a demonic surgeon killing Gaza, a propagator of death and blood, the destroyer of peace, a vampire etc… This theme was actually suggested by the organizers.
Emphasizing freedom of speech in regards to the Holocaust: These cartoons are meant to portray the censorship on the issue of the holocaust. In reality, the world is free to talk about and even question the Holocaust up to the point of denying that the Holocaust existed. On the other hand, drawing a cartoon of Mohammad is a sin according to Tehran which chose to blame the cartoonists in the Charlie Hebdo massacre instead of the terrorists themselves.
Linking the Holocaust with money: These cartoons create a direct linkage between the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and money that went, supposedly, to establish the state of Israel. The connection between the lives of the victims of the Holocaust in Germany and money is fragile at best.
Anti-Semitism: These cartoons are anti-Zionist in nature but the style of the cartoons are definitely anti-Semitic since Jews are portrayed in very stereotypical graphics (religious Hassidic Jews with long hooked noses and beards).
Holocaust denial: Although there is only one cartoon that actually denies the Holocaust, it is noteworthy that the organizers decided to exhibit as well – in this case, the Holocaust is equated to a bed-time story of folk tales such as Snow White or Pinocchio.
While it is possible to agree with some of the messages in these cartoons, when they are placed together, it’s plain to see that the cartoons are not about the Holocaust at all but are directly tied to the Palestinian cause. It’s not about creative freedom, or the freedom of speech at all and is meant, in fact, to support the Palestinian “resistance” against Israel and the US.