An exhibition of cartoons recently opened in Tehran. The theme of the exhibition is the Holocaust, the systematic murder of six-million European Jews by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
According to press reports, one of the cartoons shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and giving a Nazi salute with the other. Another depicts Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler standing behind President George W. Bush, while bombs inscribed with the Star of David fall. Still another depicts a turtle with a U.S. emblem laying eggs carrying the Star of David. The Star of David is the insignia on the Israeli flag.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been denying the Holocaust for about a year, even as he has been calling for Israel's destruction. The cartoons on display in Tehran were purportedly obtained through the holding of a contest.
When the contest was announced in February, then-U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that "any attempt to mock or in any way denigrate the horror that was the Holocaust is simply outrageous." Many others around the world issued similar denunciations.
One of the Holocaust cartoon exhibition's organizers said it was "a test of the boundaries of free speech espoused by Western countries." In fact, the contest for the cartoons was announced by the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri, which is owned by the Tehran city council.
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey says that given this official sponsorship, it cannot be called an "exercise in free speech:"
"I've seen press reports indicating that some folks in the Iranian government are claiming this is an exercise in free speech. I think it's hard to say in a government that, as you just pointed out, makes a regular habit of repressing dissent and of prohibiting anyone who disagrees with it from being able to speak out, sometimes at the expense of being put in jail or facing other kinds of serious consequences. It's really hard to believe that this is somehow some spontaneous action on the part of civil society in Iran."
Many observers agree that far from being an exercise in free expression, the Holocaust cartoon exhibition is just the latest Iranian government effort to promote hatred and intolerance of Jews and Israel.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.