Iran's Culture Ministry on Thursday dismissed criticism of its competition of cartoons on the Holocaust and lauded it as an expression of hatred against oppressors, while the Israeli Foreign Ministry, echoing widespread international condemnation, deplored that Tehran had joined the "obscene chorus" of denial.
Iran awarded a Moroccan artist late Wednesday the top prize in an exhibition of cartoons against the Holocaust, saying it wanted to emphasize that Palestinians were the indirect victims of the Nazi's killing of 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II.
"Palestinians have been victim of a deceptive history by Zionists," Iran's Culture Minister Hossein Saffar Harandi was quoted as saying by the Kayhan conservative daily on Thursday.
"The cartoonists expressed their hate against oppressors and their love toward (Palestinian) victims in their works," the Culture Minister said.
Israel, where many Holocaust survivors immigrated to, expressed its dismay at such hatred.
"The Iranian regime has unfortunately joined the obscene chorus of Holocaust denial," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
He said that till now, only neo-Nazi groups had been denying the existence of the Holocaust. "It is surely a historic tragedy that the leadership of a country has adopted such a hateful agenda."
The exhibition has received international condemnation. During a visit to Iran in September, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his displeasure, saying "I think the tragedy of the Holocaust is an undeniable historical fact and we should really accept that fact and teach people what happened in World War II and ensure it is never repeated."
Meant to be a response to the Danish cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that sparked rage among Muslims around the world, the exhibit appears inspired by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tirades calling for Israel to be destroyed.
The winner, Abdollah Derkaoui, received US$12,000 (â‚¬9,406) for his work depicting an Israeli crane piling large cement blocks on Israel's security wall and gradually obscuring Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A picture of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp appears on the wall.
The mosque is Islam's third holiest site.
The exhibition was not a matter of large interest in the Iranian media, and drew few crowds, apart from students in state-run schools who were brought there by their teachers.
Iranian media on Thursday made little comment on the competition, apart from reporting its outcome. None reproduced the winning cartoons, and people on the streets of Tehran voiced skepticism at the official contest.
"Drawing cartoons ... isn't a good way to solve real and old problems," said Ahmad Nasiri, a 23-year-old student. "Denying the Holocaust through cartoons doesn't contribute to humanity."
The exhibit curator, Masoud Shojai, said the contest will be an annual event.
"Actually, we will continue until the destruction of Israel," said the curator at Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Arts where the exhibit was held, next to the Palestinian Embassy that was the Israeli diplomatic mission before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The display, comprising 204 entries from Iran and abroad, opened in August.
Carlos Latuff from Brazil and A. Chard from France jointly won the second prize of US$8,000 (â‚¬6,271) and Iran's Shahram Rezai received US$5,000 (â‚¬3,920) for third place.
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