AHMADINEJAD at COLUMBIA dot PROTEST
Just Because Nobody I Know Got Arrested,
That Doesn't Make It A Bad Protest
No Press Pass, No Peace!
It was a beautiful day for a protest today on the Upper Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, as hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people gathered to protest the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he spoke at Columbia University.
The protesters were varied — Jews of different backgrounds, Non-Jews, Iranians against the current regime, Columbia students, high school students, and even rabbinical students from down the block were in attendance.
However, this wasn't just a chaotic protest of individuals; across the street from the main entrance to the Columbia campus, there was an organized rally. Rabbi Avi Weiss of AMCHA got into a bit of a conflict with the police over the placement of the rally, as well as Columbia University's refusal to admit non-students onto their campus.
When the protest rally began, it was run by a woman whose name I unfortunately was unable to catch. She spoke about the purpose of the protest — against hate and intolerance, in defense of peace, freedom and truth — and clearly disassociated the Iranian President from the people of his country, telling them that "we are here to support" them in their own struggle for freedom.
She directed her comments at Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, saying that by inviting Pres. Ahmadinejad to speak, he isn't "representing a minority opinion" but instead an "extremist, dangerous opinion" and giving him 45 minutes of uninterrupted access to the hearts and minds of the American people.
She was followed by Ken Timmerman of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, who reiterated the idea that "this regime doesn't represent the Iranian people." In addition, he predicted that Iran will have nuclear weapons in two years! Timmerman also said that "we need to take this man [=Ahmadinejad] very seriously," and even suggested that "we need to change this regime" in some seemingly active manner.
We then heard from David Fichman, a junior at Columbia who helped organize the protest "on the Inside" — on the university campus itself, where non-students were forbidden to go. He said that giving Ahmadinejad a forum in which to speak "suggests that his views are legitimate and worth debating," and pointed out that the problem with the President of Iran and Iran's present government isn't just about Israel or the USA. It's about a lack of freedoms within Iran itself, and the persecution of groups such as the Bahá'í. The first victim is the Iranian people. Using an appropriately academic metaphor, he ended his speech by saying that "Columbia has today failed in Ethics."
The next speaker was Rabbi Avi Weiss, who introduced his remarks by saying "Whatever we do, we do with the help of God" and by getting the crowd to sing along with him Lema‘an Ahhai veRei‘ai — 'On behalf of my brethren and friends / I will speak peace of you ... God will give strength to His nation / God will bless His nation with peace.'
Rabbi Weiss's recurring call against Pres. Ahmadinejad was "FOR SHAME!"
- for being a mass murderer of children during the Iran-Iraq war, using them to clear minefields
- for denying the Shoah
- for declaring that he is prepared to annihilate Israel
- for being a key abettor of terrorism
He also pointed out that the invitation was actually initiated by the Iranian Mission, and said that Iranian missions around the world have been involved in actual terrorist acts, such as the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. He accused Columbia of helping Ahmadinejad win favor with the Iranian citizenry back home due to this speaking engagement, and distinguished between the university, which should know better, and the UN, about which he quoted former NYC Mayor Ed Koch as having declared a long time ago that "the UN is a cesspool."
Rabbi Weiss also declared that this is the "first time I can remember" that "AMCHA has been denied entrance to a campus" — a move that he called "First Amendment hypocracy."
The next speaker was Charles Jacobs, president of the David Project, who launched an attack against what he called a culture of "Western self-destruction," saying that "you cannot pass off a madman as just a person with a different narrative" and "surely you don't need to invite a tyrant to teach students about tyranny." He also characterized Columbia University's hosting of Pres. Ahmadinejad as "American academics at its worst... its most stupid."
After him, the next speaker was a Columbia professor, Awi Federgruen (pronounced Avi Federgroin). Prof. Federgruen talked about how he had attended a few minutes of the parallel "Inside" rally, and how the speakers there began and ended their speeches with how proud they were to be Columbian, even though they were protesting the university's actions. Prof. Federgruen, on the other hand, said that he was proud to be standing outside the campus instead, and read excerpts from a letter he and colleagues had sent to Pres. Bollinger against the decision to invite Ahmadinejad to speak.
We then heard a short outburst from a member of the Jewish fraternity AEП, who described Mahmoud Ahmadinejad succinctly as someone who is "threatening the entire fucking— frickin' world."
Columbia graduate Noah Lieb was "at a loss to understand just what kind of exchange of ideas" Ahmadinejad's speaking engagement is supposed to promote, and asked "For what purpose do we give platforms to despots?" He gave multiple examples of Anti-Israel hostility from instructors at Columbia, claiming that during his time there as a student, there was a lack of academic freedom in that area, rejecting Bollinger's claim of 'academic freedom' as a reason to invite Ahmadinejad to speak.
A Queens College student whose father came from Teheran, Iran, spoke about how her grandfather was persecuted in Iran for Jewish activities, and a Torontonian named Josh pointed out the bright side of the President of Iran's visit — that "opportunities like these bring us together."
Joel Levy, the New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, talked about how as a graduate of Columbia University, he is ashamed of the inappropriate forum they provided for this particular speaker. He also told the story of how he narrowly escaped becoming a victim of the Iran Hostage Crisis, by not taking an assignment that would have put him in Teheran.
The next speaker, who literally shouted in righteous anger, was now-former Columbia student Davidi Jonas, who, after seeing what happened on campus, said, "This morning I was proud to be a student at Columbia — this evening I will be proud to no longer be a student at Columbia!"
He was followed by a Yeshiva University student, Dovid Asher, who contrasted the lack of academic freedom in Iran with how thankful he is for the opportunity "to study here in peace" and safety in New York City due to the sacrifices and effort of the members of the American military around the world.
The next speaker was Columbia University alum Aliza Davidovit, who said that she can no longer keep her diploma hanging on her wall in good conscience. Watch her rip it apart:
US Congressman Eliot Engel then spoke, saying that Ahmadinejad "shouldn't be welcomed," but instead "he should be arrested for terrorism." He said that when he was young, he used to wonder "where were people in the 1930's" but now he's seen people close their eyes to the signals again. He also said about the United Nations that "the UN that was formed to bring the world into a new era after the Holocaust should be ashamed of itself" for supporting the antisemitic agendas of regimes like Iran's. Echoing some of the earlier speakers, he also said that "the Iranian people don't want Adolf Hitler reincarnated leading their country" and that "this type of a rally would not be allowed in Teheran, or anywhere in Iran." He also addressed Pres. Ahmadinejad directly, responding to his threats or wishes for Israel's demise, by saying, "You will be gone far far sooner than Israel ever will be!"
Congressman Engel was followed by another politician, New York State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who said that it's "good to see so many good Americans" standing up to Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and Columbia's folly of supplying a forum for him to disseminate it. "Tens of thousands of people came out today, here and at the UN... to say 'Never Again'."
And in case you were wondering who the guy holding the megaphone is, that's Elliot Matthias of the Hasbara Fellowships.
Some more pictures:
Dueling Lamppost Signs
Self-Reflective Media Shots
(anyone know how you get a press pass?)
Different Views on Iran
Posters and Protesters
(the lowerleft shows YU students blocking a pro-Iran poster)
A Two-Sided Artistic "Never Again" Poster
A Last View (4 U) of the Crowds
And One Last Message to Ahmadinejad
From the People of the City of New York
(and there are many more photos where those came from)