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Cartoons as a symbol of defiance

Pay attention to Iran's cartoon contest mocking genocide and ask how such insolence will affect the nuclear deal

The director of the cartoon and caricature House in Tehran, Massoud Tabatabai, announced (16/12/2015) that Iran will once again hold an international cartoon contest that scoffs at the Holocaust. This contest offers an extra special cherry in the creation of a new category primarily designed to deride the Prime Minister of Israel. It is scheduled to take place in June 2016, with the assistance and support of the municipality of Tehran. The contest carries significant cash prizes, with the promise of a special prize of $50,000, a first place prize of $12,000, second place of $8,000, and third place prize of $5,000.

It would seem that due to the promised relief of sanctions — the result of the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) — Iran expects its coffers to fill. So the powers that be have found something “useful” to do with their excess cash flow.

This is not the first time they are holding such a contest. They held such a contest in April 2015, and according to the site managing the contest, more than 300 people from approximately 50 countries submitted entries. Illuminating the contest’s date of the first of April, the submission date then, the director of the caricature house explained, “As the first of April is the day of lies, it is appropriate to hold a caricature contest ridiculing the Holocaust, which is one of the biggest lies.” Thus, this contest is not just for fun, but purposely carries political and ideological undertones. Holocaust denial and the ridiculing of Israel’s Prime Minister are part and parcel of the political and ideological connotations.

Iran knows very well how cartoons can be used for political messages. Ms. Atena Farghadani, an Iranian citizen, was sentenced in May 2015 to 12 years in prison. Evidence against her included satirical cartoons she had drawn, depicting Iranian officials with disdain. She has been termed a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International. Recently, according to news reports, she was charged with illegitimate sexual relations and forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test,” because she shook hands with her attorney. Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program was quoted stating: “It is shocking that on top of imposing a ludicrous charge on Atena Farghadani for the ‘crime’ of shaking hands with her lawyer, the Iranian authorities have forced her to undergo a virginity and pregnancy test.”

This case highlights the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime. It sponsors cartoons against the Holocaust on the one hand, yet arrests Iranian citizens for oppositionist cartoons on the other. It also highlights how seriously the Iranian authorities take satirical cartoons: seriously enough to impose 12 years in prison. Clearly, significant differences should be noted between the two issues. Atena’s cartoons were a private initiative of an oppositionist, protesting horrendous acts by the Iranian regime. The Holocaust caricature contest is governmental, institutional, international, and in clear violation of international accords. It is also an offense to the innocent victims of the Holocaust.

Iran’s intolerance for oppositionist cartoons calls into question the Iranian leaders’ attempts to excuse themselves with false claims of not understanding the significance of convening this detestable contest.

This issue is not, and should not be, an Israeli or Jewish issue. This act of insolence should awaken the negotiators of the P5+1 and the leaders of the tolerant world to the true character of the Iranian regime. It is just one additional act of defiance among many.

Over the past few months, Iran has been ballooning different types of defiant acts, testing the waters, to see the reaction of the international community. So far, things have gone well for them. The international community has locked itself into a position of extreme weakness, in fear that reacting to these acts of defiance would uproot the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) that they have toiled so long to achieve.

In October, Iran provocatively launched a ballistic missile test, the second that year, which was determined to violate the UN sanctions. The Iranians continue to smuggle arms and support proxy terror groups, in violation of Security Council resolutions. They continue to execute juvenile offenders, in violation of the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They continue to detain American dual nationals on what observers denounce as trumped up espionage charges. They continue their subversive activity unabated. In the nuclear context, as Michael Singh and Simond de Galbert report in their Wall Street Journal article of December 14, 2015: “Iran has refused to take either of the two steps that could provide real assurance that it has forsaken its desire for nuclear weapons: abandoning uranium enrichment altogether and providing a full disclosure of past nuclear activities.”

Inaction in the face of Iranian violations and misbehavior will only lead to further insolence, defiance and audacity. It will also lead to further erosion of the integrity and credibility of the international community. It will eat at the essence of the deterrence threat, and pave the way for increased disrespect of international norms and UN sanctions.

Meaningful responses to Iranian provocations are needed. Let us start by tackling the moral issue of the Holocaust cartoon contest, which is just a symbol of Iranian deep rooted disregard for our values.

About the Author
Hillel Newman currently serves in the Strategic Division of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is the Former Israeli Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan and was Israeli Deputy Consul General to the Consulate of Israel to New England, USA. He holds a Ph.D. in Jewish History.
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