Iran’s Holocaust denial cartoon contest; where are the ‘moderates’ in Tehran?

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

To its credit, the U.S. State Department, through spokesman Mark Toner, has expressed concern about Iran’s plans to host yet another “Holocaust Cartoon Contest” in Tehran. Toner, traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Saudi Arabia, said that the United States was concerned that the contest could “be used as a platform for Holocaust denial and revisionism and egregiously anti-Semitic speech as it has in the past.” 

The words by Toner are welcome, and entirely appropriate. I hope other Western governments will quickly join the United States in denouncing this upcoming fiasco.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday lashed out at Iran, according to the Associated Press, for its previous Holocaust denial conferences, which mock the Nazi genocide of six million Jews during World War II. The AP noted that Iran has long backed armed groups committed to Israel’s destruction (including Hezbollah and Hamas), and its leaders have called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” a refrain that was repeatedly expressed during the presidency of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

During his term of office, Ahmadinejad hosted a Tehran conference of Holocaust deniers, which featured a major address by the infamous David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and former leader in the American Nazi Party.

The contest organizer’s own words make it clear that the upcoming Holocaust Cartoon Contest is merely another excuse to link Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi genocide.  “Holocaust means mass killing,” said contest organizer Masoud Shojai Tabatabaei, adding, “We are witnessing the biggest killings by the Zionist regime in Gaza and Palestine.”

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The exhibit in Tehran includes about 150 cartoons from 50 countries, with many portraying Israel as using the Holocaust to distract from the suffering of the Palestinians. The AP reports that some of the cartoons depicted Palestinian prisoners standing behind concentration-camp-style barbed wire fences. Another depicts Netanyahu in the likeness of Adolf Hitler, and yet another depicts a Jerusalem mosque behind a gate bearing the infamous motto, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Will Make You Free”) which appeared at the entry to the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The cartoon contest appears in the immediate aftermath of a disturbingly candid article in the May 8 New York Times Magazine by David Samuels, about Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications in the White House.  Rhodes, a former fiction writer, is quoted as being almost boastful about how easy it was to manipulate many younger journalists into writing favorably about the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel fears could pave the way for Iran to become a nuclear power. 

Rhodes implied contempt for inexperienced White House reporters who have almost no foreign policy knowledge or experience, and described how easy it was to feed them talking points to put the Iran deal in a favorable light. 

Throughout the process of the Iran negotiations with the P5 + 1 powers, supporters of the deal repeatedly assured the public that moderates were now in charge of the of Iran, with its so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani, and that moderates prevailed in the recent parliamentary elections.  

And yet, the weekly rallies calling for the destruction of Israel and “Death to America” continue with the full support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei.

If there are any authentic moderates in Iran, they have been totally silent in the face of the cartoon contest, which is yet another official event designed to delegitimize and demonize the Jewish State. They must be called to task for this failure at the United Nations even if Russia and China would veto any effort to curb Iranian extremism.