TEHRAN: An Iranian newspaper’s cartoon contest about the Holocaust has so far received about 200 entries, including submissions that criticize Israeli treatment of Palestinians and US foreign policy.

While the contest entrants are mostly Iranian, at least six Americans have submitted cartoons, as have other artists from as far away as Indonesia and Brazil, Hamshahri newspaper said.

Hamshahri, one of Iran’s top five newspapers, began the contest last month as a test of the Western world’s claim of freedom of expression and readiness to reprint cartoons about the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews in World War II.

The contest, which runs through May 15, comes in response to drawings of the holy prophet (peace be upon him) that sparked protests, some violent, across much of the Muslim world, including Iran.

One cartoon submission reflects the opinion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly said that the Holocaust was a myth and sought a debate over the issue.

The cartoon, by Iranian Firouzeh Mozafari, shows a circle of nine Jewish men entering and exiting a gas chamber that shows a counter reading “5,999,999,” implying that Jews have inflated the number of Holocaust victims.

American cartoonist Mike Flugennock’s submission asks: “What has Ariel Sharon learned from the Holocaust?” It shows bulldozers razing Palestinian homes and an Israeli soldier pointing a gun at a Palestinian protester’s head, above Flugennock’s answer to his own question: “Humiliation, tyranny, brutality and murder.”

Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, remains in a coma after a stroke on Jan. 4.

Flugennock, from Washington, D.C., said his entry is not anti-Semitic but a legitimate political criticism — because it criticizes not the Jewish people or their religion but Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

“It specifically addresses policies of the Israeli state with regard to its behavior in Palestine, and their similarities to the strategies employed by the Nazi regime in Warsaw and elsewhere,” he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

He said he saw the contest a chance to tell the world “that there is ‘another America’ that sees through the policies of the Israeli state and isn’t afraid of reactionaries’ trying to tar them with the epithet ‘anti-Semite.’ “

Farid Mortazavi, who is managing the contest for the newspaper, said he has received about 700 cartoons from some 200 artists. A Website run by contest organizers pointed out that entries have come in from 35 countries.

The newspaper is offering prizes of up to US$12,000 (euro10,065).

“We still expect more American cartoonists to send their caricatures to the contest,” Mortazavi said.

Other cartoon submissions, some of which were posted online, also address the situation of Palestinians in relation to Israel rather than the Holocaust itself.

One, by a Brazilian artist, shows a carefree, whistling Israeli man turning his back on a crowded Palestinian slum from which an apparent suicide bomber tries to get his attention.

Another American cartoonist depicted the Statue of Liberty with its torch extinguished and its eyes and mouth sealed with metal plates and a sign reading, “Closed until further notice. Bushco Demolitions.”—AP