TORONTO — The city of Toronto has pulled the plug on part of a Holocaust education display that compares Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler.
City officials said the exhibit – a travelling display meant to be shown in schools and on municipal property – was “inflammatory” and would possibly promote hate. But the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which created the exhibit, is asking the city to reconsider.
“We disagree” with the city’s decision, said Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends. “It is an educational exhibit based on a fellow who wants to create genocide against the Jewish nation.”
The four-part display features one section titled, “The Making of a War Criminal.” The controversial panel includes an image of Hitler giving a straight arm salute above an illustration of the Auschwitz gate. Nearby is a photo of a smiling Ahmadinejad with a burning devil over his shoulder and an atomic mushroom cloud to the right.
The exhibit’s other three panels address various aspects of the Holocaust.
“It is provocative,” Benlolo said, “but we meant it to be provocative, to alert people to the danger.”
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction and he has sponsored a Holocaust-denial contest in Iran. Iran is pursuing a nuclear enrichment program that many believe is part of a weapons program. Last week at the United Nations, Ahmadinejad repeated his incendiary comments about Israel, saying “the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse.”
In rejecting a portion of the exhibit for city-run space, officials said it may “stereotype or promote views and ideas which are likely to promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any persons,” contrary to the city’s display policy.
City staff met in a committee last May to discuss the application to host the exhibit and decided in June to reject one panel. There was dialogue between the city committee and the applicant at the time, but there has been no formal request for the committee to review its decision, said city spokesperson Rob Andrusevich.
Benlolo said the Friends will ask the city to include the controversial panel. “They have to understand. This is a special case with the assertion of genocide. They are bound by civic duty to educate the public.”
The exhibit’s other three panels were displayed at the Scarborough Civic Centre last week, and all four panels are expected to be shown this week at Milton District High School.