By David Andrew Weinberg
On September 12th, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Iranian government for promoting an antisemitic libel about 9/11 as well as for announcing it will host another Holocaust cartoon contest. Sadly, it appears that repulsive antisemitic cartoon competition is officially now underway.
At the time of Secretary Pompeo’s tweet, little information was available about this worrisome new cartoon contest being organized by Tehran. An organizer of the Iranian government’s last contest, Masoud Shojaei-Tabatabai, had expressed hopes of hosting such a competition in the Iranian press that would focus on asking “why the Palestinian nation must pay for the Holocaust,” but it seemed no other information had been publicly issued yet.
Yet shortly thereafter, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s personal website hosted Shojaei-Tabatabai for an interview where he announced that the call for contributions to his contest would be issued within days. In that interview, Shojaei-Tabatabaei argued that the purpose for such a competition would be to emphasize Iran’s objection to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo being permitted to publish materials insulting the Prophet Muhammad while European revisionists who deny the Holocaust are subject to penalties. He confirmed that this would be Iran’s third call for submissions to a contest about the Holocaust and called these cartoon contests “a weapon” for Iran because “we challenge the Holocaust debate [and] they go crazy.”
The contest was officially launched on Tuesday, September 22ndunder the title Palestine is Not Alone, instead of the anticipated title previously mentioned by Shojaei-Tabatabai: The Atonement of the Holocaust. His website indicated that the contest will be open until December for international submissions, will be judged by several international figures, and that submissions are invited for animated cartoons, political cartoon caricatures, and posters as well.
The event announcement suggests that the political cartoon caricatures focus specifically on painting as traitors those nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that make peace with Israel. The animated cartoons and posters, however, are encouraged to address three additional categories: (1) opposition to such peace accords by "the resistance," i.e. terrorist groups that are backed by Tehran, (2) the perceived hypocrisy of the West allowing the defamation of religion as a form of freedom of expression, as well as (3) the perceived injustice of creating a Jewish homeland after World War II in Palestine instead of in Europe.
And while the Holocaust was not explicitly mentioned in this regard, it did figure in remarks by the contest’s organizers at their official launch event.
Far from being a private initiative, yet again this contest is a product of the regime's state organs. In particular, the event is a project of the Arts Zone division of Iran’s Islamic Propagation Organization, which reports directly to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Shojaei-Tabatabai runs that division’s visual arts center, and he was joined by the Arts Zone’s overall director as well, Mohamad Mahdi Daman, for the contest’s launch event on the 22nd that was widely covered in Iran's regime-controlled press.
Explaining the various categories for contest submissions at this event, Shojaei-Tabatabai specifically mentioned the Holocaust, emphasizing the perceived hypocrisy of France permitting Charlie Hebdo to insult Islam while France criminalizes Holocaust denial. The Art Zone’s director Daman even opened the event by invoking the memories of several terrorist leaders – Hamas's Ahmed Yassin, Hezbollah's Emad Mughniyeh, and Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassim Soleimani – and he situated this latest contest as part of a broader "cultural and artistic war against the evil regime of Israel."
The last time Iran's government organized one of these odious contests four years ago, its focus on questioning, distorting, or denying the Holocaust was actually one of several different submission categories at that time as well. Further, the fact that Holocaust denial figures prominently in its organizer’s remarks both before and after this new contest’s launch seems to confirm that antisemitic libels related to the Holocaust and challenging its historical truth will likely be one of many different ways in which this initiative by Iran's government will no doubt provide a platform for the international propagation of numerous forms of egregious hatred against Jews.
David Andrew Weinberg is ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs.