The invitation by Columbia University to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran beggars belief and brings one of America's foremost institutions of higher learning into disrepute. Columbia's distinguished President, Lee Bolinger, defended the invitation as being in keeping with "Columbia's long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum of robust debate." Of course, that is nonsense. Does anyone seriously believe that Columbia would invite a politician or scholar who denied that American slavery ever took places, or alleged that its effects on African-Americans was benign and exaggerated? Would Columbia host a Grand Wizard of the KKK who called for black African nations to be 'wiped off the map'? And yet, Ahmadinejad is far worse. Not only has he denied the holocaust and called repeatedly for Israel's total destruction, he has gone beyond words and worked hard to put his plan into action. Ahmadinejad's Iran is one of the world's foremost sponsors of international terror, especially the Hezbollah posse of killers, and is now hell-bent on building thermonuclear weapons with which he might just accomplish what Hitler could not, the annihilation of half the world's Jews with the push of a single button. Ahmadinejad is also directly responsible for the murder of untold numbers of American troops in Iraq whose killers, according to reams of reports, he is arming and funding.
Two years ago, Harvard President Lawrence Summers lost his job for insinuating that women were not as intellectually competent in math and science as men. Yet, Ahmadinejad provides over a government that brutally suppresses women, inflicting corporal punishment if they so much as go out in the street without a head covering. But none of this has prevented him from being feted by American academia.
When I read of the holocaust, I often ask myself how the world allowed Hitler to rise to prominence. After all, humanity bore continuous witness to the hatred and venom that spewed sewer-like from his evil tongue against Jews. Did the nations of the world not isolate him as soon as he began frothing at the mouth? But in light of Ahmadinejad being invited on his last visit to address the Council on Foreign Relations, and Columbia University on this trip, I now get it. Whatever Hitler said, nobody took him seriously. They treated his rantings as a tasteless form of benign entertainment. They found him darkly amusing. And it took the incineration of six million Jews and the destruction of much of Europe to discover that ultimately the joke was on us.
In light of Columbia's invitation, it is fair to ask what indeed Ahmadinejad needs to do in order to be seen for his true colors? Stated differently, what evil must the President of Iran perpetrate in order to incur a much-deserved boycott? Since calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state is not enough, one would assume that President Bollinger would require him to actually kill a few Jews in order for the invitation to be rescinded.
But wait. He's already done that, and not just a few. Via his proxy Hezbollah, he's killed a whole lot of Jews. So how many is the cutoff before Columbia denies him a platform? Ten thousand dead Jews, one hundred thousand? Six million?
It is time for the world to boldly declare the clarion call of a new generation: no tolerance for intolerance. Any man, woman, or child whose essential message is one of hatred, racism, or anti-Semitism will be isolated, boycotted, and closely monitored. The perversion of the idea of freedom of speech to allow incitement to racial violence makes a mockery of all those who laid their lives down to protect this most important of all freedom's principles.
One can only imagine the thinking of our brave soldiers in Iraq. Here they are, dying for the freedom of complete strangers who don't even seem to appreciate their sacrifice. That's bad enough. But then they hear of how their most sworn enemy, the Iranian President who gives guns and explosives to terrorists who blow them up, is going to preach to American University students. We all remember how, during Vietnam, there was the vast disconnect between pampered students on campus who tried to burn their administration buildings down in protest of a war that poorer Americans who couldn't afford College were forced to fight. It strikes me that this is nearly as bad. Pampered Ivy league students will accord respect to a man who is silently killing American troops rather than protesting his visit to the UN that would bring these students real honor.
My father is currently in Iran (yes, you heard me correctly). He grew up in Isfahan and left in the early 1950s. Now, in his seventies, he wanted to see his remaining family and his old boyhood haunts. I too would love to see the country where my Jewish ancestors lived for two and a half thousand years, since the destruction of the First Temple. As a lover of antiquity, I would cherish viewing the great sites of one of the world's greatest civilizations. But not while Ahmadinejad is president. Not while a country once so enlightened has now grown so dark. And not while a people once so authentically religious now blaspheme G-d and their great faith by electing a leader that is an abominable killer.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is currently in Israel filming a new TV show, 'Shalom in the Holy Land.' His upcoming book, "The Broken American Male," is about to be released by St. Martin's Press. www.shmuley.com