Iranian Holocaust Denial

Phillips, Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Contest epitomizes the country’s trend of Holocaust denial and delegitimization of Iranian Jewry. Founded on nationalistic and anti-Zionist notions, the modern state of Iran has maintained antisemitism since its post-Holocaust conception. Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of The Islamic Republic of Iran, asserts that Jews are surrogates of Western imperialism, at fault for displacing Palestinian Muslims .

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Another ?Shiite 1 religious leader ?Ayatollah Ali Khamenei commented in his official 2014 Nowruz address, “the Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.” Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Contest serves as a hallmark of antisemitism 2 and Holocaust denial in Iran and has vast implications for present-day Iranian Jews. Following the Holocaust, the former Persian Empire which had been a safe-space for Jews rapidly turned to antisemitism and persecution of its Jewish citizens, the new Islamic Republic of Iran making public its anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views.

Persian Government during the Holocaust: Seeds for Modern Antisemitism The Persian government’s role during the Holocaust was integral in modern Iran’s turn towards antisemitism. The present-day Iranian government actively retains information about the Holocaust from its people, including Persian history during World War II, despite its devastating consequences. The modern government intentionally spreads false information in order to bolster Holocaust denial. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a video titled “Holocaust: Are the Dark Ages Over?”” on his website, questioning the Nazi mass slaughter of more than six million Jews during World War II. He commented, No one in European countries dares to speak about the Holocaust, while it is not clear whether the core of this matter is clear or not. Even if it is a reality, it is not clear how it happened. Speaking about the Holocaust and expressing doubts about it is considered to be a great sin. If someone does this, they stop, arrest, imprison, and sue him. This is while they claim to be the supporters of freedom. This is the ignorance that exists in today’s world. The modern government’s overt denial of the Holocaust takes its roots in Persian involvement during World War II and creates a milieu for antisemitism to flourish within the country itself. Before the Holocaust, Persian Jews held religious autonomy, economic opportunities, and significant political rights, the government even pronouncing that Persian Jews were to be 5 viewed as fully assimilated Persian citizens. Although Nazi ideology insisted on racial inferiority of the inhabitants of the Middle East and directly targeted the Persian people, Reza Shah leaned 6 in sympathy towards Germany because of the country’s lack of interference with Persian legislature in the past. German and Persian governments bolstered one another and by 1940–41, 7 nearly half of all Iranian imports came from Germany and 42% of all Iranian exports went to Germany.

Nazi ideology and antisemitism caused Persian upset. Germany worked to spread the view that 9 Hitler could be seen as the Shiite Messiah, sent from God to destroy the Jews and Communists. 10 Hitler was compared to the Prophet Mohammed, Persian propagandists portraying Prophet Mohammed’s clashes with Jewish tribes to Persian and German hostilities toward Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Occupied by Great Britain, Persia struggled to maintain its land-holdings and legislature. Following the 1942 Tripartite Treaty of Alliance between Persia, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain the latter two promised to withdraw from Persian territory within six months of the end of the war. Persian then effectively withdrew its support of the Axis Powers. Iran’s declaration of 12 war on Germany in 1943 ended with instability within the Iranian sociopolitical economy, Persians blaming their suffering on the ‘reason’ for the war in the first place: the Jews. Modern Iranian Antisemitism and the International Holocaust Cartoon Contest In the modern Middle East, antisemitism has acquired social acceptability under the guise of historical between Muslims and Jews. Because the Islamic Republic of Iran contains the 13 largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel, its government and local citizenry both claim that it could not be anti semitic, while simultaneously administering blatantly antisemetic legislation and fostering a largely anti-Jewish milieu. 14 The modern Iranian Government plays a crucial role in media distortion and Holocaust Denial. Leaders from Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who opened an Iranian Al?Quds Day rally dismissing the fact that six million Jews died during World War II as “Zionist propaganda” , to 15 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who met with French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, author of “The Founding Myths ? of Modern Israel” in which he details “the myth of the six million” Jewish 16 victims , the roots of Iranian antisemitism stem from its government. Changes within Iranian 17 political or religious administration have not significantly affected antisemetic views or distortion of the Holocaust by the state, but rather Holocaust denial has been a constant thread throughout modern Iranian history.

The Holocaust cartoon competitions are a crucial piece of religious propaganda directly overseen by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In 2006, an Iranian government-aligned newspaper Hamshahri? sponsored The International Holocaust Cartoon Contest, which announced its intent to analyze “Western hypocrisy on freedom of speech.” Although publicly portrayed as a 18 reaction to Western cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the contest worked to scaffold anti-Zionist agendas and was intended both to inflate Holocaust denial and to condemn and deny legitimacy to Israel. ?Hamshahri?, a propaganda-?oriented institution financed by the city of Tehran, received almost one thousand, one hundred and ninety-three submissions from more 19 sixty countries around the world. 20 Social representations of Jews and Israel are constructed around denying the Holocaust and framing “Nazi-Zionist Ideology.” The contest’s anti-Semitic overtones present a one-sided 21 version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of Jewish history, and has the potential to implicate negative views of Jews in Iran. In support of the contest, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asserted that there exist some Holocaust deniers who do not harbor “racial hatred,” and 22 that the displaying of Holocaust-denying cartoons does not necessarily concern execration towards the Jews.

In 2016, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asserted that the Iranian Government did not endorse the 2006 contest and that no governmental permission was necessary in order to have held it, aiming to separate the religious and legislative institutions from its antisemitism. 23 However, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance later released a statement that it bolsters any event or program that serves to “enlighten people about the Holocaust,” implying its 24 affiliation with the contest. The same year, another exhibition opened in Islamic Propaganda Organization in Tehran, featuring one hundred and fifty cartoons from the 11th Tehran International Cartoon Biennial. Despite some Iranian cartoonists denouncing the 2006 and 2016 exhibitions as propaganda tactics, Iranian groups and civilians have been silent as a whole. 25 Although the contest spokesperson claimed that the objective of the contest was to criticize “inconsistent freedom of expression” in countries that support Zionism” , the purpose 26 of these contests was to deny Holocaust and bolster antisemitism operating under direct orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei. In charge of arranging the 2016 competition, Masoud Shojayee Tabatabayee insisted that the goal of the competition was “ not to confirm or to deny the Holocaust” despite stating the reason for the 2006 competition was “to show that the Holocaust is a big lie for the occupation of Palestine.” The submitted cartoons themselves fall into six 27 distinct categories (see descriptions of cartoon winners in appendix):

  1. Fabricating a present-day Holocaust committed by Israel
  2. Portraying Zionism as comparable to Nazism
  3. Claiming Israel appropriates the Holocaust to justify killing Palestinians
  4. Depicting the Holocaust as a myth to legitimize the founding of Israel
  5. Representing the Holocaust as a myth in general
  6. Rendering that the West fabricates ideas of freedom of speech

These cartoons serve as propaganda, intentionally portraying overt hate-speech as fact. Depictions of Jews and Israel in the muslim World has been constructed, according to Joel Kotek, over centuries as “antisemyths,” which he defines as myths constructing a false “evil” nature of Jews. 30 This propaganda is permanently institutionalized in the Islamic Republic of Iran because it serves many sociopolitical functions. Firstly, it helps to unite citizens in hatred towards a specific group of people instead of mobilizing against unpopular Iranian leaders. Secondly, the Iranian Constitution itself allows for distortion of media. Its preamble and article 175 justify, The mass ? communication media, radio, and television must serve the diffusion of Islamic culture in pursuit of the evolutionary course of the Islamic Revolution… the appointment and dismissal of the head of the Radio and Television of the Islamic Republic of Iran rests with the Leader.

This allows for indoctrination of government-run radio, television, and press, allowing for propaganda to permeate Iranian media. Cartoons as propaganda allow the government to avoid responsibility while also permitting manipulation of a medium used to exaggerate reality. In his piece ?Israel in the Iranian Media: Demonizing the ‘Zionist Regime’?, Rusi Jaspal describes “Social Representations Theory” in specific relation to understanding social thinking, communication and behaviour 32 surrounding Jews and the Holocaust in Iran. In general, social representations can be described as views or practices regarding a given object, creating a common reality within a society. Furthermore, he argues that delegitimizing social representations of Jews in Iranian media create a negative social “reality,” further cultivating Iranian antisemitism. The cartoons of the International Holocaust Cartoon Contests intentionally manipulate 33 popular social representations of Jews in Iran to exacerbate pre-existing antisemitic views. For 34 example, Tallil Abdellatif draws a smiling Jew drawing the blue lines of a concentration camp uniform. Another cartoon by Ebrahim Azad illustrates a line of Palestinians walking into an 35 incinerator, depicted as a head wearing a large hat with a Star of David . These cartoons portray 36 the Holocaust as a fabricated event, attempting to legitimize the Holocaust as a hoax. 37 Additionally, the frequent depiction of Jews as Nazis and of Zionism as comparable with Nazi ideology stem from the false believed of an international conspiracy to the construct the “Holocaust myth.” Even cartoons which do depict the Holocaust as a reality illustrate it as a 38 tool for “Zionist for evil and aggressive purposes, which is consistent with the threat representation.” The fuel for these representations comes from an already prevalent social 39 representation of Jews as falsifying their suffering. Despite the fact that some of the cartoonists are not Iranian, submitting their works to a government-funded contest fuels the Iranian ideological discourse surrounding Jews and the Holocaust. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s endorsement of the contest, scaffolded by its ability to partake in propaganda efforts, created the perceived need to publicize antisemitic “views” internationally. This goal was met through international participation, publicity, and dissemination of cartoons.

Iran after The International Holocaust Cartoon Contest Iran continues to be an international cite for Holocaust deniers and antisemites. A conference held to discuss the legitimacy of the Holocaust was sponsored by the Iranian government, the head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies Rasoul Mousavi beginning the conference by praising the “opportunity for scholars to discuss the subject away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them [Holocaust deniers] in Europe.” Among the conference’s attendees were David Duke, white-supremacist 40 and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust. Bendikt Frings, a German psychologist, commented 41 on the conference, “we are forbidden to have such a conference in Germany… All my childhood, we waited for something like this.” Displayed on the walls within the conference were photos 42 of dead camp prisoners, with captions asserting that the victims died of typhus. ?Following the conference, Ladan Boroumand, an Iranian exile, discussed Iranian denial with Daniel Greene of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She says, What totalitarian regimes do is to—and this is what makes them extremely devastating—is they look at you and say, “”You are not.”” Or, “”You are something else.”” Or, “”This event didn’t exist.”” This power, that is only God’s power. If a regime, or some people, think they are God, they can have the right to make you animals or human. They can create you or kill you. And this is unbearable. So the only thing you can do—and the most subversive thing you can do—is to tell the truth. This is devastating because each time you come back with the truth, you deny their prerogative of creating a fictitious world where they can say whatever they want.

Boroumand describes Holocaust denial both as a foundation of neo-Nazi culture and intrinsic in the Iranian totalitarian regime. In their book ?Iranian Jews, ?Hasan Sarbakhshian and Parvaneh Vahidmanesh detail current Iranian antisemitism, documenting legislative discrimination, rhetoric, and a vastly diminishing Jewish population. Following ignored submissions of their report, the Culture Minister accused Sarbakhshian and Vahidmanesh of pro-Israel propaganda. They accused Vahidmanesh of converting to Judaism – a capital crime under Islamic law – and revoked their press passes.

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