Iranians once again staged an international contest for cartoons depicting (and mocking) the Holocaust. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a phone call with John Kerry, insisted upon a US condemnation.

The event was nevertheless likely to shock many around the world and could embarrass Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates who have tried to improve ties with the West following last year’s landmark nuclear deal.

Iran has long backed armed groups committed to Israel’s destruction and its leaders have called for it to be wiped off the map. Iran has also criticized depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, arguing that Western countries tolerate expression deemed offensive to Islam but not the questioning or denial of the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to condemn the Holocaust cartoon contest, while accusing Iran of “preparing another Holocaust.”

“We have never been after denying of the Holocaust or ridiculing its victims,” contest organizer Masuod Shojai Tabatabaei said in a speech opening the event.

“If you find a single design that ridicules victims or denies, we are ready to close the exhibition,” he said. “Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust were subject to oppression by Nazis.”

Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed 6 million Jews during the World War II-era genocide.

Holocaust Denial Widespread in Middle East

The denial or questioning of the Holocaust is widespread in the Middle East, where many believe it has been used as a pretext for the creation of Israel and to excuse Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians.

“Holocaust means mass killing,” Tabatabaei said. “We are witnessing the biggest killings by the Zionist regime in Gaza and Palestine.”

Some 150 works from 50 countries are on display in the contest, which opened on the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948. Many of the works portrayed Israel as using the Holocaust to distract from the alleged suffering of the Palestinians, and many compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

The contest was organized by non-governmental bodies with strong support from Iran’s hard-liners, who were opposed to the nuclear deal and are against taking further steps to improve ties with the West. Some $50,000 in prize money will go to 16 finalists, with the top winner receiving $12,000. The exhibition runs through May 30.

A previous contest was held in 2006 during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who referred to the Holocaust as a “myth” and repeatedly predicted Israel’s demise.

Tabatabaei also depicted the contest as a response to depictions of the Prophet Muhammad by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and others, saying Western countries have a “double standard” when it comes to free speech. Holocaust denial and hate speech are illegal in some European countries.

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian government on the contest. But Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who played a central role in the nuclear negotiations, told The New Yorker magazine in April that the contest was organized by a group “that is not controlled by the Iranian government. Nor is it endorsed by the Iranian government.”

Speaking during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the Iranian contest as the preparation for another Holocaust against the Jewish people.

“Over the weekend Iran convened a special Holocaust-denial cartoon contest. We raise this here because it must be understood what our problem with Iran is. It is not just its policy of subversion and aggression in the region; it is the values on which it is based. It denies and belittles the Holocaust and it is also preparing another Holocaust,” charged Netanyahu.

He said every country in the world “must stand up and fully condemn this.”

This is what he told US Secretary of State John Kerry last night in their conversation, he added.

By: AP and United with Israel Staff