To be quite honest, I wanted to punch the screen (no, J-School students were not among the priveleged few who got to attend the speech itself, but neither were most of the press members) when Ahmadinejad kept saying "60 years ago," when he was condemning Israel. After becoming friends with soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect Israel -- our Israel -- words like these made me want to cry. However, I did really, really like Bollinger's introduction.
But I had to write an objective article as part of a class assignment in one hour following the speech. And here it is... unfortunately not quite as objective as it should've been. Unfortunately, time interfered, and I was unable to include some key points -- just in case you were wondering, women are treated quite well in Iran apparently, and executions without trial are the same as American capital punishment, according to Ahmadinejad. Oh yeah, and Iran doesn't have homosexuals. Wonder why? Now that's a tough one.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad skirted questions about Israel’s right to exist and campaigned for continued Holocaust research during in his speech yesterday at Columbia University.
He no longer denied the Holocaust as a factual event in history, but he claimed his right as an academic to support continued research on the topic from all sides.
“I’m not saying that it didn’t happen at all,” Ahmadinejad said. “Granted, it happened. What does it have to do with the Palestinian people?”
He equated this historical event to a scientific or mathematical theory, capable of changing and developing through scholarly research. Such questions, he said, continue to be inhibited by the “two or three powers who think that they have the right to monopolize all science.”
Ahmadinejad wouldn’t tell the audience whether or not Israel is legitimate nation, even after two probing attempts for the answer by the moderator, Dean John Coatsworth. The president only responded that he supports an election by the people of Israel – the nation he would only call Palestine.
“You know quite well that Palestine is an old wound,” Ahmadinejad said. “For 60 years, innocent women and children are killed by airplanes that break the houses over their heads.”
He sharply repeated the phrase “For 60 years” again and again, citing examples of what he saw as Israeli atrocities against Palestinian victims.
Ahmadinejad spoke by invitation at Columbia’s School of International Affairs and World Leaders Form, in a discussion introduced by University President Lee Bolinger. The Iranian leader walked onto the stage with a simple wave to his audience of approximately 600 people.
“We do not honor the dishonorable when we open our forum to their voices,” Bollinger assured the audience in his introduction. “This forum has nothing to do with the right of the speaker…it is consistent with the idea that one should know thine enemies.”
“Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” Bollinger concluded, sparking a resounding applause.
Ahmadinejad was visibly offended by Bollinger’s remarks, avowing that Iranians always treat their visitors and civilians with respect, including the Jews.
“We love all nations,” Ahmadinejad said.
Ahmadinejad is ready to open discussions with the United States and claims that his government has been ready to do so during his entire presidency. He is eager to speak with the leaders of all nations, except for the people of what he called “the Zionist regime.”
Prior to the speech, community members gathered inside the University gates in protest. Students from the Jewish Theological Seminar joined together in circles, singing Zionist melodies and praying for the preservation of Israel. An array of multi-colored yarmulkes and ankle-length skirts decorated the campus, accompanied by the tunes of “Am Yisrael Chai.”
“We respect his right to speak, but at the same time we want to speak against him – anyone who acts like a modern Haman,” said rabbinical student Philip Weintraub, 23, comparing Ahmadinejad to an ancient villain from the Megillah scrolls.
“We need to show that somebody who’s providing mass murder should not be allowed to say his words without protest,” said Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Seminary. “His freedom of speech is whole country – why does he need Columbia University?”