This week, Iran is hosting its second annual Holocaust Cartoon Competition, even as some politicians and world leaders continue to argue that Iran is becoming a stabilizing force because it is re-joining the international community, by implementing the nuclear agreement and integrating into the global financial system.
The exhibition of Holocaust cartoons will open on May 14. Iran's Holocaust Cartoon Competition reflects the Iranian regimes' attempts to expand its efforts to promote anti-Semitism beyond the borders of its nation.
As Iran's revenues are rising, thanks to the lifting of sanctions, the prize for the best Holocaust cartoon was lifted, as well. Iran is now offering $50,000 for the best Holocaust cartoon, more than quadruple last year's prize, which was $12,000. According to Iran's semi-official IRNA news agency, the conference is expected to draw participants from more than 50 countries.
The Iranian regime seems to be using global legitimacy, granted to its leaders by many Western politicians through the nuclear agreement and business deals, to promote the core pillars of its Islamic revolution, opposing the US and rejecting Israel's right to exist, as well as its fundamental ideals.
In addition, it is worth noting that these kinds of global conferences, which work to deny the historical fact of the Holocaust, are aimed at undermining Israel's legitimacy, as well as its right to exist. One of Iran's major foreign policy and ideological objectives, which rests on the religious teachings of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, is the struggle against Israel.
For more than 35 years, the Iranian regime has been trying to delegitimize Israel through both soft and hard power. Iran promotes its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel narrative through schools, social media, television, and non-stop political rhetoric. Its narrative has attracted an audience in the Middle East, as well as in the West.
The Iranian government claims that it has nothing to do with sponsoring such a conference and that it does not endorse such an event. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif explained last week to the New Yorker, in response to this news: "It is not Iran. It is an NGO that is not controlled by the Iranian government. Nor is it endorsed by the Iranian government."
Zarif added that Iran "does not support, nor does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that you're talking about."
Mr. Zarif is being disingenuous. The competition is sponsored by two organizations which are directly or indirectly linked to the Iranian regime: the Owj Media and Cultural Institute and the Sarsheshmeh Cultural Center, which is supported by the Islamic Development Organization (IDO). The Iranian parliament provides the IDO's budget.
In Iran, governmental or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), groups, or institutions cannot hold events -- whether cultural, economic or political -- without the explicit or implicit approval of Iran's officials. The approval normally comes from the Ministry of Culture, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Basij, intelligence agencies, Etela'at, Tehran Municipality or the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.
If the government is not involved in these kinds of events and NGO activities, why do no events exist that criticize the Supreme Leader or the ideological principles of Iran? Why are there only events that promote Ayatollah Khamenei and the revolutionary principles of the IRGC?
In short, it is impossible to hold such a large and global conference without the sponsorship and approval of the government.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum accurately pointed out in a statement that in Iran, "Previous [Holocaust cartoon] contests in 2006 and 2015 have had the endorsement and support of government officials and agencies." The museum added that, "There are reports in the Iranian press that the Ministry of Culture is asserting its support for the upcoming contest."
By denying any involvement in such conferences, Rouhani, Zarif and their team are playing the tactical shift that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a senior cadre of IRGC designed long time ago. The tactical shift is to feign a softer tone on the international stage through the president and the foreign minister, while keeping the fundamentals of Khamenei and the IRGC's policy intact.
By denying the Iranian regime's official involvement in the Holocaust cartoon contest, President Rouhani (right) and FM Zarif are feigning a softer tone on the international stage, while keeping the fundamentals of Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards's policy intact.
To gain more wealth through business deals and the lifting of sanctions, Rouhani and Zarif are faking a nicer façade and illusion on the international stage, while Khamenei and the IRGC continue with their longstanding objectives of opposing the US and Israel, and preserving Iran's Islamic and revolutionary norms. Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism are two of the core values of Iran's Islamic revolutionary principles. Khamenei and the IRGC leaders derive legitimacy from these revolutionary and ideological values.
These kinds of Holocaust events and conferences are not linked to "understanding" the Holocaust, as the Iranian leaders disingenuously argue. The conference premise is based on the notion that Holocaust did not occur.
Iran's propaganda can normally turn this anti-Semitism into a motivation for violence and more terrorist acts.
Western powers are aware of the fact that the improving ties and rapprochement between Tehran and the West, particularly Washington, are contributing to legitimizing the Iranian regime. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the international community to strongly condemn these hatred-driven moves by Iran's regime.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American political scientist, Harvard scholar, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He can be reached at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @Dr_Rafizadeh