Iranian President Ahmadinejad
Jewish organizations in the United States are planning large-scale demonstrations - involving thousands of protesters - this week to express their mounting anger at Columbia University's invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to deliver a speech on campus this Monday.
Columbia University has so far refused to respond to pressure to cancel the appearance, despite the widespread outrage at Ahmadinejad's invitation.
Dani Klein, Campus Director of the pro-Israel activism group Stand With Us, told Ynetnews: "Our message to Columbia University is that of disgust. This is the second year in a row that they have extended their hand to Ahmadinejad. We are not asking Columbia University to cancel the event in the name of free speech, rather we are showing our disappointment and disapproval of inviting him to begin with."
Klein added that "Columbia University is going out of their way to honor Ahmadinejad by having Columbia's President (Lee) Bollinger introduce his lecture on Monday. Free speech is one thing. Honoring a modern day Hitler is another."
Earlier, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Gillerman, also likened the Iranian president to Adolf Hilter, and said that a proposed visit by Ahmadinejad to Ground Zero would be similar to a visit to the site by the Nazi fuehrer.
Extending invitations to vehemently anti-Semitic leaders was not a new development for Columbia University, Klein said. "We are reminded of a similar situation in 1933, when then Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler hosted a reception for the Nazi ambassador. We ask Columbia and President Bollinger not to dignify Ahmadinejad, do not honor him, and do not emulate President Butler from 1933," he said.
Klein added that Buses filled with students and community members "have been organized from Brooklyn College, Queens College, and Rutgers University. we also expect large turnouts from Baruch College, Hunter College, and NYU. Yeshiva University, directly north of Columbia, has encouraged their students to join us on Monday."
"At this point, we don't believe the lecture will be cancelled," he said.
Roz Rothstein, Executive Director of Stand With Us, estimated that "there may be thousands," adding: "If Columbia cancels in the last minute, then everyone will be diverted to the UN location (where Ahmadinejad will address the General Assembly)."
Elliot Mathias, Director of Hasbara Fellowships, part of the Aish Campus organization told Ynetnews Jewish students "are outraged that a prestigious university would invite a man to speak who is the president of the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world, who has publicly denied the Holocaust, and has called for the destruction of Israel."
"We are hoping to mobilize thousands of students and community members to our protest on Monday," Mathias added.
'We would invite Hitler'In a surprising twist, the university's dean, John Coatsworth, affirmed in an interview with Fox News that Columbia would indeed extend an invitation to Hitler had such an appearance been feasible.
"If Hitler were at the League of Nations or some meeting in New York, if Hitler were in the United States, and wanted a platform from which to speak... if he were willing to engage in debate and discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him," Coatsworth said.
Last week, the university's president offered his own defense of the invitation. "The event will be part of the annual World Leaders Forum, the University-wide initiative intended to further Columbia's longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues," he said in a press statement.
"In order to have such a University-wide forum, we have insisted that a number of conditions be met, first and foremost that President Ahmadinejad agree to divide his time evenly between delivering remarks and responding to audience questions. I also wanted to be sure the Iranians understood that I would myself introduce the event with a series of sharp challenges to the president on issues including: The Iranian president's denial of the Holocaust, his public call for the destruction of the State of Israel, his reported support for international terrorism that targets innocent civilians and American troops, Iran's pursuit of nuclear ambitions in opposition to international sanction..."
In his statement, Bollinger expressed his belief that "better beliefs" triumph inferior ones in a battle of ideas. "To commit oneself to a life - and a civil society - prepared to examine critically all ideas arises from a deep faith in the myriad benefits of a long-term process of meeting bad beliefs with better beliefs and hateful words with wiser words," he said.
Meanwhile, Iran paraded over the weekend new long-range missiles during a commemoration of its eight-year war with Iraq. Tehran said its missiles, called Ghadr, has a range of 1800 kilometers, placing Israel within striking distance of the missiles.