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(photo credit: Courtesy)
While riots over the cartoon depiction of Muhammad continue to rage worldwide and controversy surrounds an Iranian newspaper's decision to hold a Holocaust cartoon competition, an Israeli cartoonist has come up with his own ironic - some say misguided - response. And it's attracting a wide audience.
Amitai Sandy, 29, a Tel Aviv graphic artist, has launched the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest, a challenge, led by Jews, to find the best cartoons, caricatures and short comic strips that demonize the Jewish people.
"We'll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew-hating cartoons ever published!" wrote Sandy on his Web site. "No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!"
Sandy told The Jerusalem Post that his intention was to challenge bigotry by using humor - an approach that officials at Yad Vashem are not convinced is the best idea.
"We're not sure this is the best way to respond," said spokeswoman Esti Ya'ari.
Ephraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, was more emphatic. He pointed out that the initial response of many Jews to Hitler was one of ridicule. "It might have been funny at the time, but it wasn't an effective response," Zuroff said.
But the contest, launched on Tuesday, is getting lots of attention among Jewish bloggers - at sites like Jewschool.com, which receives thousands of visitors a day. Bloggers are playing up news of the contest and directing Web surfers to Sandy's site at www.boomka.org.
And the first cartoons are already starting to come in, Sandy said Wednesday.
"The Arab media publishes anti-Semitic cartoons all the time," he said. "We thought it would be a much braver thing to do to publish cartoons about ourselves, rather than our adversaries. Humor is one of the best ways to check if the values we believe in are still valid."
The contest has only been open for two days, but already six entries have been received, Sandy said.
He hopes to offer a prize to the winner based on donations from visitors to the Web site. The entries will all be posted on-line and will be exhibited in Tel Aviv after the contest closes on March 5.
Dan Sieradsky, 26, a Jerusalem Web designer and editor of the blog Jewschool saw the effort as ironic.
"Being a person who considers himself proudly Jewish, I don't necessarily enjoy it when Jews take mean swipes at their fellow Jews," he told the Post. But he considered Sandy's contest a positive move. "The Israelis are taking something used against them and co-opting it as a way to empower themselves. In that, it will reduce the impact an anti-Semitic cartoon can have, because it shows that whole venture is ridiculous."
For his part, Sandy was unconcerned that an Israeli anti-Semitic cartoon contest would have negative effects. "People are afraid that anti-Semitic propaganda leads to actions," he said. "The real anti-Semites will do what they do. They don't need me to come up with excuses for hate."
Sieradski agreed, pointing out that because Jews are a traditionally oppressed people, they historically have been very careful about how they present themselves to the outside world. "Now that we live in a post-Zionistic age, we're very well protected," he said. "We have enough comfort here and abroad that we can feel more comfortable making jokes about ourselves."
Hamshahri, a prominent Iranian newspaper with ties to the government, announced last week that it would hold a competition for cartoons on the Holocaust to test the limits of free expression.
The 12 best entries will receive gold coins as prizes. The contest was explained as a reaction against European newspapers' publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, but has drawn harsh criticism from Jewish groups.
"This is part of the ongoing Holocaust denial in Iran, and exposes the truth behind the so-called historical investigations," said Yad Vashem's Ya'ari.
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