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The Fern Sidman Commentaries:

The hallowed halls of New York City's premiere Ivy League institution of higher learning, Columbia University will never be the same for today the world's leading despot graced its presence. Today, the master of propaganda, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the podium at Columbia's World Leaders Forum and spewed forth his own brand of vituperative against America and Israel, while sprinkling in generous doses of lies and gross distortions of facts. Today, a Holocaust denier and executor of dissidents exploited the cherished freedoms of American society, all the while smiling like a Cheshire cat. Today, the new generation of progenitors of "freedom of speech" and "academic freedom" heaped praise upon themselves as they reveled in their latest victory.

There is no doubt that today's performance at Columbia was a political windfall of great magnitude for Ahmadinejad. Completely cognizant of the controversy that swirled around him, the cunning politician relished in the fact that he exploited the momentum of his adversaries to further his own agenda. The 5000 outraged demonstrators provided him with the number one news story of the day, as he used the global television coverage to score points with the Ayatollahs back home. Under enormous pressure from alumni and various and sundry other detractors, Columbia President, Lee Bollinger, (who was responsible for extending the invitation to the Iranian leader to speak at Columbia), introduced Ahmadinejad armed with a laundry list of accusations of human rights violations along with a perfunctory excoriation of his infamous remarks on Holocaust denial. He called him a "petty and cruel dictator" and referred to him as "astonishingly uneducated."

Despite doing an excellent job of pretending otherwise, Ahmadinejad was not rattled. He professionally posited himself as the proverbially misunderstood academic, unjustly criticized by the West. While he chided Bollinger for being "discourteous" and making unfair accusations even before he took the microphone, he continued his well practiced manifesto. The gospel according to the President of Iran went like this: "Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedom," and "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country." He also refused to address the issue of state sponsored terrorism that manifests itself in the form of executions of academics and dissidents along with juvenile offenders. On the subject of his infamous track record of Holocaust denial, the Iranian president queried, "If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?"

Concerning the looming nuclear threat emanating from Iran, Ahmadinejad said that Iran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's central nuclear technology governing body, and has submitted many times to IAEA inspections. "Over and over again the agency's reports indicate that Iran's activities are peaceful, that they have not detected a deviation," he said. He did not address why Iran has vehemently defied international demands that Iran halt production of enriched uranium. He also did not deny his country's involvement in trafficking explosives and weapons to Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq's sectarian conflict, which have been used against U.S. troops in the four-year-old war. U.S. commanders have said they have captured Iranian agents involved in supplying those weapons to the militias, some of which have longstanding ties to Iran.

In regard to Israel which Ahmadinejad has said should be "wiped off the map," he recently added the following to his repertoire, as reported on September 12, 2007: "Israel is an invader and is cruel, and it hasn't got a united public. All other nations are against it," he said. "We do not recognize them. They are attackers and illegal." While he would not respond with a "yes" or "no" when asked Monday if he sought the destruction of Israel, he said the status of Israel should be determined by a free election. "Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future," he said. Clearly aware that time is on the side of the Palestinians with the demographic time bomb that ticks away each day in Israel, Ahmadinejad knows that the Arab birthrate in Israel far exceeds the Jewish one and very soon the State of Israel can be democratically voted out of existence by the Palestinians.

Ahmadinejad also stressed repeatedly that Iran wants to negotiate with the United States and other nations, several times describing Iran as a "cultured" and "civilized" nation. "I think that if the U.S. administration, if the U.S. government puts aside some of its old behaviors, it can actually be a good friend for the Iranian people, for the Iranian nation," he said. "For 28 years, they've consistently threatened us, insulted us, prevented our scientific development, every day, under one pretext or another." There is no question that he knows that sooner or later the United States will have to modify its policy of politically isolating Iran, and will eventually have to come with its tail between its legs to Iran, who he sees as a key player in the Middle East. He eagerly looks forward to the idea when the "giant" will be brought to its knees, humbly negotiating with its sworn enemy.

The circus atmosphere of Ahmadinejad's appearance did not limit itself to the auditorium. On the campus of Columbia University several hundred Columbia students protested Ahmadinejad's appearance while thousands more gathered outside the campus to express their views. A potpourri of Jewish student organizations representing New York area colleges such as Brooklyn College, Queens College, Rutgers University of New Jersey gathered on Broadway and 115th Street. Other organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America, Amcha led by Rabbi Avi Weiss, and Stand With Us among others took aim at Columbia's decision to invite Ahmadinejad to speak and and some demanded that Ahmadinejad be served with papers as a war criminal.

Christine C. Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, said Columbia should not be giving Ahmadinejad a platform. "All he will do on that stage ... is spew more hatred and more venom out there to the world," she said. Hamid Dabasi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia called the whole forum "misguided."

The Jewish organizations squared off in raucous debates with other groups of demonstrators who came to support Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia and his political agenda. The American-Iranian Friendship Committee decried the media as a Jewish owned propaganda tool and held signs saying "Ban Israel's Atomic Bombs" and "Stop the War on Iran". The Revolutionary Communist Party was also represented with a large banner that said, "Ahmadinejad is bad but Bush is worse. No war on Iran". Among the groups present that stirred the most controversy and raised the ire of the pro-Israel demonstrators were the ultra-Orthodox Jewish organization called "Neturei Karta" whose representatives attended a conference dedicated to the subject of Holocaust denial in Teheran last year. Group members held signs that read "Judaism Condemns Zionist Provocations Against Iran" and "Judaism dictates Jewish subservience to ALL nations from the US to Iran". Shouting matches ensued between the two groups as the self-haters of Neturei Karta were eventually drowned out.

And the insanity rages on. Next stop for the Iranian president in the United Nations General Assembly. G-d help us !!

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