Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Israel-Iran Cartoon War

A Danish paper publishes a cartoon that mocks Muslims.
An Iranian paper responds with a Holocaust cartoons contest -
- Now a group of Israelis announce their own anti-Semitic cartoons contest!

In the wake of the Danish Mohammed cartoons controversy, Iran’s biggest-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, in February organised a competition to find the 12 "best" cartoons about the Holocaust. The aim, according to graphics editor Farid Mortazavi, was to test out how committed Europeans were to the concept freedom of expression. "The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons."

Not to be out done, in the same month Eyal Zusman, actor and playwrite, and Amitai Sanderovich (Sandy), a graphic artist from Tel-Aviv, Israel, organised an anti-Semitic cartoons contest- the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon contest - this time drawn by Jews themselves! According to Sandy, “We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published! No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”

Now these two contests seem to have, almost predictably, run into problems. CBS News, citing AP, reports that during his visit to Iran last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan raised concerns with officials over the exhibition of the Holocaust cartoons (which featured 204 entries from Iran and other countries including the USA, Turkey and Indonesia) at Tehran's Caricature House. with . According to his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, Annan brought up the exhibit, which runs till Sept. 13, in talks with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. "We should avoid anything that incites hatred". The U.N. chief had not seen the Holocaust cartoons but "from what he heard, he would find them pretty distasteful, as he did the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad, which he strongly condemned at the time," Fawzi said.

Sandy also writes that the Tel-Aviv Comics, Caricatures and Animation festival which ended last week and which had initially offered to include Zusman and Sandy's exhibition, withdrew the offer "due to content." Gavriel Fiske of the Jerusalem Post reports that one of the judges for the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon contest, Pullitzer Prize winner Art Spiegleman found the cartoons "as blood-curdling as the contest literally asked for, but if one erases the Jewish names below the cartoons they pretty much just reinforce the stereotypes they mock." The cartoons can still be viewed on the official site gallery.

According to Moshe Goralli, writing in Haaretz, the festival however included a special session - entitled "God on the Line" - that focused on the question of whether it is permissible to laugh at God or at least include him in caricatures. It also featured an exhibition of Israeli cartoons on the recent Israel-Hizbolla conflict. According to Reuters, depictions of the Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, ranged from him using children as human shields to biting the boot of an Israeli soldier and disputing Lebanese territory with Israel's military over a map of the region.

While much of the artwork was directed at Nasrallah, the cartoonists also took swipes at Israeli military leaders. An Israeli boy who came to see the exhibit said one of the cartoons summed it up for him. It depicted Israeli and Lebanese soldiers both with their pants down trying to see who had the bigger "rocket". Festival director Nissim Hizkiyahu said: "We asked the cartoonists to give their point of view, their special point of view, about this war and they gave us special comics and cartoons about the events, not only about Hassan Nasrallah, but around the war and how the people reacted to this war."

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