- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

1:28 p.m.

TEHRAN — Ignoring widespread condemnation, Iran awarded the top prize in a Holocaust cartoon contest to a Moroccan artist for his depiction of Israel’s security wall with a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp on it.

The organizers of the exhibit — meant as a response to the Danish cartoons of Islam’s prophet Muhammad that enraged many Muslims — awarded Abdollah Derkaoui $12,000 yesterday 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 Auschwitz appears on the wall.

The mosque is Islam’s third-holiest site.

Iranian officials said they wanted to emphasize that Palestinians were the indirect victims of Nazi Germany.

“Palestinians have been victim of a deceptive history by Zionists,” Iranian Culture Minister Hossein Saffar Harandi was quoted as saying by the conservative daily Kayhan. “The cartoonists expressed their hate against oppressors and their love toward [Palestinian] victims in their works.”

The contest generated little coverage in the Iranian press, and many ordinary Iranians expressed little interest or criticized the exhibit as unnecessarily provocative.

Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, has called for Israel to be destroyed, and Tehran several times has announced plans to host a conference to examine the scientific evidence supporting the Holocaust, dismissing it as exaggerated.

“The Iranian regime has unfortunately joined the obscene chorus of Holocaust denial,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “It is surely a historic tragedy that the leadership of a country has adopted such a hateful agenda.”

He said that until now, only neo-Nazi groups had been denying the existence of the Holocaust.

The State Department has slammed the exhibit at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Arts, calling it an outrageous attempt to “denigrate the horror that was the holocaust.”

The display, comprising 204 entries from Iran and abroad, opened in August. Carlos Latuff of Brazil and A. Chard of France jointly won the second prize of $8,000, and Iran’s Shahram Rezai received $5,000 for third place, the organizers said.

The French artist regularly draws cartoons for Rivarol, a small weekly whose director is expected to face trial next year for running an interview in which nationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen denied the brutality of the Nazi rule. France has strict laws against denying the Holocaust.

Hajar Smouni of Reporters Without Borders said the Paris-based media rights group was shocked by the “very poor taste” of the contest. He said Tehran was far from showing the same degree of openness to local journalists who publish caricatures criticizing Iranian rulers.

“This is not proof of their open-mindedness or their acceptance of the fundamental principles of freedom of expression,” he said.

The Tehran daily Hamshahri, a co-sponsor of the exhibition, said it wanted to test the West’s tolerance for drawings about the Holocaust. The entries on display came from nations including United States, Indonesia and Turkey.

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