Ahmadinejad Visit Sparks Heavy Protests
More than 2,000 Columbians gathered on campus in protest to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he addressed the university’s students and faculty during a visit on Monday, Sept. 24.
The rally was organized by the Columbia Coalition, an ad hoc group of students formed on behalf of the university’s administration. Members of the coalition said the university had asked them to provide an on-campus forum for peaceful demonstrations and public debate.
The protests came as a response to Ahmadinejad’s past comments that “Israel must be wiped off the map” and that the Holocaust was a “myth,” his government’s suspected support of terrorists in Iraq and Iran’s practice of public executions of homosexuals and other “criminals.”
Ahmadinejad, who was denied permission to lay a wreath at ground zero by city officials earlier last week, will also address the United Nations today.
Ori Sosnik, one of the eight organizers of the Columbia Coalition, said the group had decided not to comment on Columbia’s highly debated decision to invite Ahmadinejad, a year after the university retracted a first invitation for security reasons.
Other students, however, were less shy in voicing their anger about Ahmadinejad’s appearance at this year’s World Leaders Forum.
“I think it’s an atrocity to invite the leader of a country of the axis of evil,” said Ben Weingarten, 20, holding a sign asking to “stop Iran.” “As a Jew I feel offended. I know my parents will never donate any money to this institution and I won’t give a penny until the administration changes,” the second-year political science major said.
Eiton Ben-David, a recent Columbia College graduate, who spoke at the coalition forum on the steps of the Low Library, said he was “ashamed to be associated with Columbia today.” Referring to Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic comments, Ben-David, 24, publicly asked the university’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, what else the Iranian president would have to do to be banned from speaking on the campus.
Sharona Getz, a New York campus coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America, agreed. “I think it is a scandal and I’m embarrassed about it,” Getz, 22, said.
Others, however, believed that a debate about Ahmadinejad’s views would provide the public with a chance to challenge his beliefs.
“We need more contesting of his ideas, we need debate, we need ferment in the pursuit for truth,” says Allen Lang, 24, an elementary school teacher from Manhattan who visited the campus to protest Ahmadinejad as well as the Bush administration’s threats of war against Iran.
Ben-David, however, had his doubts that the debate would be effective. “All they do is giving him an opportunity to sound more moderate to the audience. What we need to do is to ostracize him,” Ben-David said.
Getz also believed that the Iranian president didn’t deserve the right to speak at Columbia. “It’s ironic that Ahmadinejad denies freedom of speech in his country, but is invited to speak freely here,” she said.
Meanwhile, several Iranian students feared that the protesters were casting a wrong light on their home country.
Fatemeh Farshneshani, 21, a Columbia graduate student of film studies, was in favor of Ahmadinejad’s visit. “I think it’s an amazing idea. This is what an academic debate is all about,” Farshneshani said. The Iranian, however, also feared that the protests were misrepresenting her home county.
Carrying an Iranian flag around her shoulders she said, “Iran is most tolerant of Jews in the Middle East, besides Israel. Ahmadinejad just makes the Iranian government seem anti-Semitic.”