Eventually, the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger overruled the invitation to host Ahmadinejad, which was extended by Lisa Anderson, Columbia's dean of the school of international and public affairs.
Ahmadinejad's audacious anti-Semitic statements have become well known to all. Particularly heinous are his characterization of the Holocaust as a "myth," and his suggestion that Israel be transferred to Europe or the United States, saying that "they have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets." That is, of course, in addition, to his call that Israel be "wiped off the map."
One of the most common misconceptions with regard to the United Nations is that it's a place where world leaders convene to solve problems in a peaceful and democratic way. However, that entity has turned into a major repository of the disease called anti-Semitism. And instead of looking for a cure for this, U.N. members seem to be looking for ways of spreading the epidemic.
The real issue is education, and the role models we use to illustrate the reality of Israel and the Middle East. North American campuses are the heart of this battlefield, where Israel's mere existence is debated.
The Center for Israel and Overseas of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, like many other groups, such as Campus Watch, Stand With Us and the David Project, are concerned with the ways Israel and Middle East studies are taught on university grounds. The goal is that students be given a fair presentation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and not a politicized agenda.
Last year, for example, the notorious Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, who was invited to Swarthmore College to lecture on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Massad, known for his anti-American and anti-Israel scholarship, is famous for saying: "All those in the Arab world who deny the Jewish Holocaust are in my opinion Zionists."
If not for Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, students at Swarthmore would not have had the chance to hear a counterview. The center was responsible for ensuring that another view was offered by Dr. Walid Phares, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington who wound up addressing the threat of global jihad.
What happened at Swarthmore is not an isolated event. College campuses have become podiums for those who disparage Israel, as seen in the different human rights, anti-globalization and anti-imperialism groups that have adopted the Palestinian cause. In academic circles, individual scholars' views are often turned into a political litmus test.
All of the above underscores the need to provide our students with a broad understanding of Israel before they leave for college. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not black and white; it's asymmetrical. Nonetheless, the Palestinian cause has become the flagship of many Mideast departments across North America.
While we may not all unconditionally support everything that Israel does, it remains the Jewish state and has the right to exist in security. We must help our students expand their knowledge about Israel and the Middle East, and give them the tools to support Israel in her daily struggle to exist in peace. u
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel and Middle East affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.