Berlin says Iranian attempt to mock Shoah 'sows hatred'

19 May 2016

Germany on Wednesday strongly condemned the second Iranian Holocaust Cartoon Exhibition, which opened in Tehran earlier this month.

In Berlin, Foreign Office 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. Apart from the fact that such an exhibition does not contribute to de-escalation and more trust in the Middle East, it sows hatred and deepens divisions."

Schaefer added that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had made it clear during a February visit to Tehran that no further such competition should take place. 

The United States and other European countries also expressed their disapproval or disgust at the event. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said the exhibition, "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" and it went "against the universal values of tolerance and respect.

The exhibition opening was timed to coincide with 'Nakba Day', the name Palestinians give for the Declaration of Independence of Israel in May 1948. About a fifth of the 864 cartoons that were submitted from 50 countries for the cartoon contest are currently on display in the Iranian capital.

Three winners in each of the two categories (cartoon and caricature) will be announced upon the show’s conclusion at the end of the month. The prize money totals US$ 50,000.

Iran has a history of Holocaust denial. When the Holocaust cartoon contest was first held in 2006, then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had already become well-known for calling the Holocaust a "myth." The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also repeatedly expressed doubt about the Shoah. In a speech he gave in 2014, he called the Shoah "an event whose reality is uncertain, and if it happened, it's uncertain how it happened."

Last week, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said the Iranian government was "making a mockery of itself and of the international community by allowing this Holocaust denial cartoon competition to be held under its auspices.

"This same Iranian government wants the world to believe that it would not use nuclear capabilities against Israel or the West. But how is the world to believe such claims when the Islamic Republic continues to abet such disgusting and degrading forms of anti-Semitism and historical revisionism? This competition is nothing less than an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and a slap in the face to the gestures of the international community.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif had recently told the 'New Yorker' magazine that his government was completely unaffiliated with the competition and in no way condoned it. However, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum revealed that the organizations holding the competition, the Owj Media & Cultural Institute and the Sarsheshmeh Cultural Center, are directly linked to and funded by organs of the Iranian government, including the Revolutionary Guards.

“It has always been clear who runs Iran: the fundamentalist radicals seeking Israel’s destruction,” Lauder said. “The fact that Iran is once again providing a platform for this competition proves that it has still not changed its colors and if given the chance, could still be as dangerous as ever.”

Nikahang Kowsar, an Iranian-born cartoonist who fled the country in 2003 after receiving death threats, also addressed Zarif’s claim, writing in the 'Times of Israel': "So here is a contest that is supervised by Tehran’s Municipality, while the Ministry of Interior and Tehran’s City Council have authority over Tehran’s mayor and his office. It’s a rabidly anti-Semitic contest, held with no objection from the Rouhani administration, and the funny thing is that the winners of this hate-fest are awarded prize money that is sent to them through the standard channels, controlled and monitored by the government."