Carlos Latuff - Second place winner at the 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Contest
Let’s face it: When Iran announced it would be holding its second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest in May, it was nothing but cheap provocation. That’s it.
You don’t have to be a cartoonist — as I am — to take issue with this competition.
Iran announced the second contest in the wake of Charlie Hebdo’s Mohammad cartoons. Yes, including the one that was on the issue that came out right after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
This is the second contest of this nature. The first took place in 2006, following the controversial Danish Mohammad cartoons. The entries contained many overtly racist depictions of Jews as bloodsucking, manipulative, inhuman creatures.
A lot of them were anti-Israeli, comparing the Israelis to Nazis. Both the first and second place winners compared the separation barrier to a concentration camp.
You cannot say that you have nothing against Jews and do your best to make fun of the Holocaust. You cannot deny the biggest mass killing of Jews in history without drawing (forgive the pun) very clear enemy lines.
This is especially harrowing with Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Ha’Sho’ah) coming up this Thursday, April 16th.
The Iranians’ premise is illogical at best. How is making light of the Holocaust retribution for Mohammad cartoons? There was nothing Jewish or Israeli about either publication.
2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Contest Winner: Derkaoui Abdellah/Morrocco
It’s not like the Iranian government is a bastion of free speech. It’s not like political cartoons making fun of the Iranian government fill the Iranian newsstands. Political cartoons seem to mostly make fun of ISIS and the West (unlike, let’s say, Israeli newspapers that are full of anti-government cartoons).
Growing up in Israel, “you cannot compare” (“asur le’hashvot”) is a common saying in regards to the Holocaust. The Shoah is Jewish sacred ground, one that does not permit mockery and levity. In fact the Israeli government even went so far as to debate a law prohibiting comparisons.
I am a granddaughter to the Holocaust; three of my four grandparents were orphaned by the Nazi regime. So no, I don’t think the Holocaust is funny. I don’t think it’s holy either, mind you. But this cartoon contest? It’s childish and cynical. And its participants, even if they are just “anti-Zionist” and do not deny the Holocaust, are condoning Holocaust deniers through the participation.
Not only is this cartoon contest cynical and hypocritical, it also makes light of something much fresher than the Holocaust: the recent massacre at Charlie Hebdo. With its explicit disrespect for Charlie Hebdo’s victims, it seems to be implicitly condoning the terror attack.
I’m not saying that you cannot compare. You can do whatever you want, in the name of free speech. And my complaint isn’t so much with the cartoonists themselves. As a cartoonist, I think that some of the cartoons are successful as visual statements, even if they are offensive and I don’t agree with them. It’s the premise of this contest and its origin that I find completely offensive.
Perpetuating Holocaust denial is harmful. Propagating anti-Jewish stereotypes is, too.
Especially now that Iran’s in the midst of historic negotiations with the U.S., can it really afford to compare Jews to their killers and to history’s worst villains, denying their trauma?
Lior Zaltzman is the Forward’s Digital Fellow and a wearer of many hats. When she’s not tweeting from the Forward’s account, she’s creating illustrations, graphics and lists for the various Forward blogs. She can also make comics out of your bad dates in #OYDATE. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in cartooning. Lior Zaltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @liorca.