Ignoring widespread condemnation, Iran awarded the top prize in a Holocaust cartoon contest to a Moroccan artist for his depiction of Israel's security wall with a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp on it.

TEHRAN, Iran – Ignoring widespread condemnation, Iran awarded the top prize in a Holocaust cartoon contest to a Moroccan artist for his depiction of Israel’s security wall with a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp on it.

The organizers of the exhibit — meant as a response to the Danish cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that enraged many Muslims — awarded Abdollah Derkaoui $12,000 Wednesday for his work depicting an Israeli crane piling large cement blocks on Israel’s security wall and gradually obscuring Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site. A picture of Auschwitz appears on the wall.

Iranian officials said they wanted to emphasize that Palestinians were the indirect victims of the Nazi’s killing of 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II.

“Palestinians have been victim of a deceptive history by Zionists,” Iranian Culture Minister Hossein Saffar Harandi was quoted as saying by the conservative daily Kayhan. “The cartoonists expressed their hate against oppressors and their love toward (Palestinian) victims in their works.”

The contest generated little coverage in the Iranian press and many ordinary Iranians expressed little interest, or criticized the exhibit as unnecessarily provocative.

Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, has called for Israel to be destroyed, and Tehran has several times announced plans to host a conference to examine the scientific evidence supporting the Holocaust, dismissing it as exaggerated.

“The Iranian regime has unfortunately joined the obscene chorus of Holocaust denial,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Thursday. “It is surely a historic tragedy that the leadership of a country has adopted such a hateful agenda.”

He said that till now, only neo-Nazi groups had been denying the existence of the Holocaust.

The U.S. State Department has slammed the exhibit at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Arts, calling it an outrageous attempt to “denigrate the horror that was the holocaust.”

The display in Tehran, comprising 204 entries from Iran and abroad, opened in August. Carlos Latuff of Brazil and A. Chard of France jointly won the second prize of $8,000, and Iran’s Shahram Rezai received $5,000 for third place, the organizers said.

The Tehran daily Hamshahri, a co-sponsor of the exhibition, said it wanted to test the West’s tolerance for drawings about the Holocaust. The entries on display came from nations including United States, Indonesia and Turkey.

The exhibit drew few crowds, apart from students in state-run schools who were brought by their teachers.

Iranian media didn’t comment on the competition Thursday apart from reporting its outcome. None reproduced the winning cartoons.

“The exhibition had no remarkable impact on public opinion,” said Gohar Dashti, a professor at the Soureh Art University in Tehran. “It was neither a concern of students nor of the media.”

Some people on the streets of Tehran voiced skepticism about the contest.

“Drawing cartoons … isn’t a good way to solve real and old problems,” said Ahmad Nasiri, a 23-year-old student. “Denying the Holocaust through cartoons doesn’t contribute to humanity.”

The exhibit curator, Masoud Shojai, said, however, that the contest will be an annual event.

“Actually, we will continue until the destruction of Israel,” he said. The museum is next to the Palestinian Embassy, which was the Israeli diplomatic mission before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.