Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Giving Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a platform to espouse his hatred and racism is a "mistake" and he should not be given any legitimacy, an Israeli official said on Monday.
Ahmadinejad was invited to speak to students at Columbia University on Monday as part of the School of International and Public Affairs' World Leaders Forum. The invitation has generated debate over the limits of freedom of speech.
The Iranian leader is in the U.S. to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He's scheduled to address the world body on Tuesday.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that Ahmadinejad supports terrorism and is a Holocaust denier.
"He deserves no legitimacy. He deserves to be boycotted and we believe that giving him a platform to espouse his extremism, hate and racism is a mistake," Regev said by telephone.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to take part in a demonstration outside the U.N. on Monday that has been organized by Jewish groups to raise awareness about the dangers of a nuclear Iran.
Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and has denied the Holocaust.
Israel's main Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, said it was unfortunate that Columbia -- "an institution ostensibly dedicated to the pursuit of truth and knowledge, should choose to provide a man so divorced from reality and historical truths with a platform to spout his venomous ideology," a spokesperson said in a statement.
Jewish groups also have expressed their anger at what they consider an abuse of the right to freedom of speech.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Jerusalem, said it was unfortunate that Columbia had provided a platform for someone who "incites to mass murder and wants to wipe out a member of the United Nations."
In defense of Columbia's decision to invite the Iranian leader, John Coatsworth of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs said -- in response to a question from Fox News -- that Columbia would have allowed German dictator Adolph Hitler to speak.
But Zuroff told Cybercast News Service that such comments indicate that Columbia has failed to discern between freedom of speech and the abuse of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not include the right to incite to mass murder, Zuroff said. "It is a form of appeasement in certain respects," said Zuroff.
There is no ambiguity in what Ahmadinejad says, said Zuroff. If there was a question about what Ahmadinejad really means, then there would have been room to invite him to a forum to discuss or debate it, he said.
But Ahmadinejad has "already clarified his goals, ideals and value system. His ideals are the antithesis of American democracy," he said. "This is what makes their discussion so objectionable."
Columbia cancelled a visit by Ahmadinejad last year. But this year university President Lee Bollinger said he would personally introduce the Iranian leader and would pose a set of "sharp challenges" to him.
The Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said last week that Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia was "inappropriate and a perversion of the concept of freedom of speech."
"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," Foxman said in a statement.
"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," he said.
"Ahmadinejad is only the most vocal of Muslim leaders calling for Israel's elimination," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
"What makes Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for, and predictions of, Israel's destruction so ominous is that his regime is proceeding unhindered towards acquiring nuclear weapons, which would allow him to carry out his dream. Ahmadinejad says repeatedly that no one will stop him," Klein said in a statement.
Iran is currently under threat of increased U.N. sanctions for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a key process in making a nuclear bomb.
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