Dani Klein, Campus Director of the pro-Israel activism group Stand With Us, said in protest of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University, “Free speech is one thing. Honoring a modern day Hitler is another.” Now in what manner can the Iranian president be compared to Hitler? Is Iran invading other countries? Is Iran pursuing an expansionist policy? Is Iran dividing people based on ethnicity and relegating despised minorities to ghettos? Does Iran have a vast military apparatus capable of taking over the Middle East? Is Iran engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing? (The only country in the Middle East that approximates this description is Israel.)
Of course, Klein is taking his cue from those around him. Earlier in the day, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Gillerman, likened the Iranian president to Hitler and said that allowing Ahmadinejad to visit Ground Zero would be like allowing a Nazi leader to visit the site. “We are reminded of a similar situation in 1933, when then Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler hosted a reception for the Nazi ambassador,” Gillerman said. “We ask Columbia and President Bollinger not to dignify Ahmadinejad, do not honor him, and do not emulate President Butler from 1933.”
In response to Gillerman’s claims, the university’s dean, John Coatsworth, said that he would have extended an invitation to Hitler himself 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.” In an era where free speech is rapidly eroding, Columbia still gets it.
It’s long been clear that Abraham Foxman of the ADL has no concept of free speech, and his comments on the Ahmadinejad-Columbia matter provide yet another example of the dim-witted mentality that makes it so hard for the man to see why comparing right-wing Zionists to fascists isn’t such a leap. “It is inappropriate and a perversion of the concept of freedom of speech,” Foxman said of Columbia’s decision. “Columbia University has no moral imperative, no legal imperative, no social imperative to give Ahmadinejad a platform, which he would not give them in Tehran. Why give him the credibility and the respectability of a major institution of higher learning? What message does that send to the students? This is not what the First Amendment is all about.”
Foxman’s argument is this? Because Iran doesn’t allow voices critical of Iran and its allies to be heard in Iranian forums, then the US shouldn’t allow Iranian voices to be heard in American forums. But isn’t that the problem with Iran? Isn’t the argument that Iran is not like the West because it doesn’t have the liberal democratic traditions we enjoy here in the United States. So instead of showing the world why we are more free by allowing a politician we disagree with to speak on one of our college campuses, we are supposed to instead be like Iran and suppress speech with which some members of our society disagree? Make you wonder if Foxman’s mouth and ears are operated by the same brain.