Society & Culture

Denying Denial at Holocaust Cartoons Exhibition

May 21, 2016
Aida Ghajar
4 min read

Iran’s second International Holocaust Cartoons Exhibition and Competition has been condemned around the world, but as its organizer Masoud Shojaei Tabatabaei has promised, it opened its doors on May 14 in Tehran. The exhibition contains 150 works selected from 864 entries from 51 countries. Shojaei has invited Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit the exhibition.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Zarif said the Iranian government had nothing to do with the competition and the exhibition and was only responsible for issuing visas. In response, Shojaei said the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance had been fully involved in the process.

Now that the exhibition is on display, Shojaei has changed his tone somewhat. During opening ceremonies, he said Zarif had not been “exactly” in the loop about the exhibition. Since the foreign minister had just sent a message of condolence to Lebanese Hezbollah leader Seyed Hasan Nasrollah after his senior commander Mostafa Badrodin was killed,  Shojaei said, “it shows that he shares our position and there is no reason he cannot visit the exhibition.”

Following the publication of Zarif’s New Yorker interview, the Culture Ministry spokesman Hossein Noushabadi said Zarif’s comments had been meant primarily for “foreign consumption.” In response, Shojaei said, “Mr. Zarif must know that this is an international competition in which artists from 51 countries have participated. So it is a little strange to say [the exhibition] is for domestic consumption.”

The exhibition opened with the unveiling of a work by the Indonesian cartoonist Jitet Koestana. According to Shojaei, Koestana’s cartoon shows that Israel, or “the Zionist regime,” is following in the footsteps of Nazi Germany and that “the Zionist regime is responsible for all the killings and miseries of the Palestinian people.”

According to Shojaei, the competition’s first, second, and third-place winners will receive $12,000, $8,000, and $5,000 respectively. Five artists receiving “special mention” will each receive $1,000. The works in this category mostly appear to feature Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler.


Denying Holocaust Denial

Shojaei and other organizers have said that their goal is not to prove or deny Holocaust but to discuss “the lack of freedom of expression in the West when it comes to the Holocaust."

He said the Western media wants to “play the victim” and “present us as pro-Nazi” but, he says, “we are against any dictatorial regime,”  especially the “Zionist regime.” He has also asked rhetorically why Germany doesn't give part of its territory to Jews. Shojaei has also quoted Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who said, “We hope one day this regime would disappear.” It is a sentiment that Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, along with other Islamic Republic officials, have repeated time and again.

The exhibition opened on May 14, the same day Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948.

Palestinians call the 14th Nakba Day or the “Day of Catastrophe.”

The first Holocaust Cartoons Exhibition was held in 2006 under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after a Danish magazine, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons of Islam's prophet, Mohammad. Then-Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also inaugurated a conference called Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision. Participants included anti-Zionist Jews, western Holocaust deniers, and David Duke, a former “imperial wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan. Ayatollah Khamenei has often called the Holocaust “a myth.”

Plans for the second exhibition were announced after the French weekly Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, which two Al Qaeda-linked terrorists claimed inspired them to shoot dead 8 of its staff and 4 others with automatic weapons on January 7, 2015. According to Shojaei, most of the participants in the second exhibition come from France. Many contributions also came from Germany, Brazil, China, Japan, and Indonesia.

Many countries, along with the United Nations and UNESCO, condemned the first Holocaust Cartoons Exhibition. This time is no different. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran “denies and belittles the Holocaust and it is also preparing another Holocaust.”


Fostering Hatred, Violence, and Racism

“We denounce any Holocaust denial and trivialization as inflammatory and abhorrent,” said US State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “It is insulting to the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust.”

UNESCO head Irina Bokova said that “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.”

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said, “The murder of 6 million men, women and children during the Holocaust, for which we Germans bear guilt and responsibility, must not be abandoned to ridicule.”

But even though Shojaei has given Zarif a green light to attend the exhibition, the foreign minister has yet to accept his invitation. What is on the record, however, is that he has denied any connection between his government and holocaust deniers.


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Denying Denial at Holocaust Cartoons Exhibition