Monday, September 18, 2006

N.Y.'s Jewish Leaders Reject Offer To Meet Iran's Leader

Eli Lake, New York Sun:
Jewish leaders in New York are spurning a request from the Council on Foreign Relations to meet with the president of Iran when he arrives for the U.N. General Assembly. The vice president for communications at the Council on Foreign Relations, Lisa Shields, confirmed yesterday that President Ahmadinejad has been invited to address members of the council.

"Our invitation to Ahmadinejad is no different than our invitation to other heads of states during the General Assembly," she said. "We have had an invitation out over the years to the Iranians as they come to the United Nations. This year they accepted."

Ms. Shields said the council has hosted other contentious foreign leaders, including Fidel Castro of Cuba, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

"It is the mission of the Council on Foreign Relations to create a direct dialogue with world leaders and others," she added. "It is never an endorsement of their positions or policies. The council holds no institutional position. In fact, a direct dialogue creates an opportunity for members of the council to air their views in an unfiltered way."

Senator Santorum, a Republican of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Ahmadinejad "shouldn't be allowed to go anywhere but the United Nations and a hotel if necessary."

"I think this is outrageous," the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said. "Ahmadinejad has proven that dialogue serves no useful purpose except to give him legitimacy and recognition. How can you have a dialogue with someone who says he is guided by the hidden imam who died in the ninth century?"

Mr. Hoenlein added that he declined the council's invitation. His organization is organizing a protest against Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said that initially the Iranian president was invited to a dinner at the council.

"This was over the top," Mr. Foxman, who also declined the council's invitation to meet with Mr. Ahmadinejad, said. "It's one thing to invite him to hear his views. But it's something else to break bread with him."

Mr. Foxman added, "He has a right to address the United Nations. Anything beyond that is a courtesy he has not earned. For someone who publicly and continuously denies the Holocaust, and for someone who continuously threatens to wipe off the face of the map Israel, a member of the United Nations, is certainly not one with whom decent people should dialogue."

The Iranian leader said last month that he was backing the U.N.-brokered cease-fire between Israel and the Iranian-funded Hezbollah until the Jewish state could be destroyed. Beyond his hostility to Jews and Israel, Mr. Ahmadinejad has overseen a purge of Iran's universities.

A group of former American hostages seized by the revolutionary regime in 1979 has said Mr. Ahmadinejad was one of their interrogators. An Austrian legislator and Kurdish leaders have said the president played an organizing role in the 1989 murder of the Kurdish leader Abdolrahman Ghasemloo in Vienna, Austria. READ MORE

The sister of Akbar Mohammadi, a political prisoner who died in Evin prison this summer after allegedly being poisoned, said she does not understand why the council invited Mr. Ahmadinejad.

"He is a terrorist," Nasrin Mohammadi said. "When Akbar was alive outside the jail, he told me he loved the American people and the American government. My people love American people. This is an insult to Iranians. We have to hope the American people support the real Iranian people."

Among the Jewish leaders declining the council's invitation are three former chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: Mortimer Zuckerman, proprietor of the New York Daily News; Ronald Lauder, who head the Jewish National Fund; and Kenneth Bialkin, who is chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League, as well as Roger Hertog, a trustee of the Shalem Center in Israel.