September 1, 2006

Annan asked to protest Iran’s Holocaust cartoons

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan has been asked by a leading American Jewish group to
speak out against Iran's Holocaust cartoon exhibition when he
travels to Tehran next week.

In a letter circulated on Friday, the American Jewish
Committee said Annan should use the opportunity to speak out
"publicly and privately" about the exhibit. The AJC lobbies
against anti-Semitism and for pluralism.

The exhibit's organizers say that the more than 200 entries
from Iran's International Holocaust Cartoons Contest are aimed
at challenging Western taboos about discussing the catastrophe,
in which 6 million Jews died but which Iran's president has
called a "myth" open to debate.

"While we understand there are many vital issues on your
agenda during your meetings in Iran, failure to address this
government-endorsed and encouraged anti-Semitism would be seen,
both inside and outside of Iran, as either acquiescence or
worse, endorsement," the AJC letter said."

"Such an interpretation would be especially dangerous given
the context of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments calling
for Israel's destruction," wrote AJC's executive director,
David Harris, and its president, Robert Goodkind.

Annan plans to visit Iran as part of a diplomatic swing
through the Middle East to pin down a peace deal on Lebanon.

At a July conference in Rome on the fighting between Israel
and Hizbollah militia, the secretary-general suggested that
Iran and Syria, Hizbollah's chief benefactors, be engaged.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was "very
pleased" about Annan's efforts but expressed doubt he would

Annan was forced to cancel a scheduled trip to Iran last
November after Ahmadinejad told students that that "Israel must
be wiped off the map."

The AJC letter said that Annan's visit would probably
coincide with an announcement on September 2 of winners in the
cartoon contest.

It also expressed appreciation for Annan's "prior
statements about the bigotry of Holocaust denial and the
importance of not using free speech as a pretext for hateful

Iran's best-selling newspaper Hamshahri in February
launched a competition to find the best cartoon about the
Holocaust in retaliation for last September's publication of
caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish and other
European newspapers.

Those images of the prophet sparked attacks on European
embassies in Muslim nations, including missions in Iran.

(Additional information from Parisa Hafez in Tehran)