Iranian paper wants Holocaust cartoons

Goal of contest is to test "the limit of western freedom of expression."

anti semitic cartoon 88 (photo credit: )
anti semitic cartoon 88
(photo credit: )
One of Iran's biggest newspapers launched a Holocaust caricature competition on Monday, in what it is calling a test of of the limits of Western freedom of expression. The contest comes in the wake of widespread Muslim protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first printed in a Danish newspaper. Hamshahri, one of Iran's top five newspapers, published the call for cartoons under the title, "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression?" "We don't intend retaliation over the drawings of the prophet. We just want to show that freedom is restricted in the West," said Davood Kazemi, executive manager of the contest, who has been cartoon editor at the paper since 1992. "We expect those papers who published the cartoons (of Muhammad) to reproduce the cartoons which will be selected during our competition," Kazemi said. "Even Israeli cartoonists could send their works to the contest." He added that the paper would not accept any "insulting" cartoons but he did not elaborate what would constitute insulting. The paper promised a gold coin to each of the 12 winners. The contest idea was meant to "measure the sanctity of the freedom of expression among the Westerners," said the newspaper's Web site. The paper's editor blasted European newspapers for having double-standards regarding the publishing of cartoons which might offend Jews compared to those which might offend Muslims. The deadline for entries is May 5 and each contestant can submit up to three cartoons. "Some weeks after the deadline we will announce the results of the competition," Kazemi said. "Select cartoons will be reproduced in a catalog and the works will go on public display." Kazemi stressed that the government had nothing to do with the contest. "Government authorities did not affect the decision-making process for holding the contest. The idea was independently initiated by the paper," Kazemi said. David, an Iranian-born Jewish shopkeeper in Jerusalem, said on Monday that the cartoon contest is a way for Iran to lash out at Israel. "Israel is pushing the UN to stop Iran [from producing nuclear power] and they don't know how to get back at Israel," he said. "They want to make noise and problems, so they say this about the Holocaust. Even they know the Holocaust is true. But they are acting like ignorant people." Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which called for the original contest of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, told CNN last week that he would print the Holocaust cartoons of Hamshahri. However, he retracted his promise hours later. The British daily, The Guardian, reported that the Danish daily turned down cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny. Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig became the first entrant in the competition by sending cartoons deemed "inappropriate" for publication in Australia to the contest, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The cartoons submitted by Leunig were rejected for publication in The Age in 2002 by then editor Michael Gawenda. The first of Melbourne-based Leunig's two cartoons shows a poor man with a Star of David on his back walking towards the Auschwitz death camp in 1945 with the words "Work Brings Freedom" over the entrance. The second shows the same scene but depicting "Israel 2002" with the slogan "War Brings Peace" over the entrance and the same man walking towards it bearing a rifle. In submitting the cartoons to the Iranian competition, Leunig was quoted as saying, "I have had some difficulty getting this work published in my own country, and I believe it would help highlight the hypocrisy of the West's attitude to free speech if you were to publish it." Gawenda told ABC television's Media Watch program in May 2002, "I think it's just inappropriate. Anyone seeing that cartoon would think it inappropriate." Despite the contest and the anti-Israel statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian-Israeli Jews say their relatives and friends back in Iran are not in danger. Michael, an Iranian Jew who immigrated alone to Israel in 1966, speaks regularly by phone with his brother, Moshe, who lives in Teheran. The two use a code language to exchange information about subjects that might seem contentious to Iranian security services. "I spoke with my brother yesterday," said Michael, who asked not to use his full name for fear of the Iranian security services. "I asked him, 'How are the goys [the non-Jews]? Are they OK?' He said, 'OK.' "That means there are no problems. God willing he will never say they are not OK." Goy, a biblical term for a non-Jew, is the term that the brothers use to refer to the Iranian regime. When he asks how they are, he means how are they treating the Jews. "They don't know what a goy is," said Michael, who works in a shoe store on Jerusalem's Jaffa Street. The Jewish Iranian community of some 30,000 people has garnered more attention following the letter written by Haroun Yashayaei, the community's leader, to Ahmadinejad criticizing him for denying the Holocaust. "Challenging one of the most obvious and saddening events of 20th-century humanity has created astonishment among the people of Iran and spread fear and anxiety among the small Jewish community of Iran," said the letter, which reached the international press this week. Michael said he was more concerned about his brother's safety than his brother is. "We here feel worried," he said. "But there they are not afraid." David, the Jerusalem shopkeeper, said that Yashayaei's letter proved the Jews' situation is not perilous. "If a Jewish Iranian leader said this it means they are not afraid," said David, who did not give his full name because he has family in Teheran. "If they were afraid, they would not talk, so I don't think the situation is bad for them." However, some Iranians have a different perspective on the situation. "The [statement by Yashayaei] was coordinated with the president of Iran," said Nuriel Hasidim, 69, an Iranian-Israeli Jew who moved to Israel in 1966. "It's a game that only Persians understand. He would never have said that without permission. They let him say it to show that there is freedom of speech." Hasidim also believes that Jews in Iran are safe. "The Jews [in Iran] are afraid but no one will touch them."