The University unexpectedly became the brunt of conservative indignation this week, after articles from Fox News and other outlets erroneously claimed that University President Lee Bollinger would be dining in Midtown next week with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Last week, Spectator reported that 15 members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association were invited to a dinner with Ahmadinejad on Sept. 21. Three days later, Fox News incorrectly reported that Bollinger would be joining the students at the dinner. Members emphasize that the dinner itself is also still tentative.
The University has issued a statement denying any involvement in the dinner, and adding that the news stories “fundamentally misstate the University’s role in this unconfirmed possible encounter. Simply put, there never was one. In fact, at no time has there ever been any university event planned or considered involving the president of Iran, nor has there ever been any plan for a dinner involving the Iranian president and President Bollinger.”
In 2007, a firestorm of media attention erupted when Ahmadinejad was invited to speak at Columbia’s World Leaders Forum on campus. Despite outside criticism and threats from alumni to withdraw funding, Bollinger refused to cancel the event but gave Ahmadinejad a notoriously chilly introduction, calling him a “petty and cruel dictator.” Students filled College Walk and Low Plaza to listen to Ahmadinejad’s speech and protest his notoriously dictatorial hold over Iran.
Fox News has updated their story to exclude any reference to President Bollinger’s alleged involvement in the dinner. Members of CIRCA have told Spectator they will not comment until after the dinner has taken place to ensure that their comments to the media do not jeopardize the dinner’s security arrangements or their personal safety.
Following these reports, Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law center, sent Bollinger a letter condemning the alleged invitation in a statement that said, “Hosting Ahmadinejad at a banquet is not merely morally repulsive: it is illegal and likely to render Columbia University and its officers both criminally and civilly liable.”
The Tel Aviv-based law center inaccurately implied that Columbia is hosting the event. The University is not and neither is CIRCA; Ahmadinejad often dines with American students when he is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. In the past he has invited students from Yale, Harvard, and other big-name universities to a private dinner, where they are given the chance to ask one or two questions as a group.
Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, also issued a statement condemning what the organization perceived to be the University’s involvement.
“Columbia’s President Bollinger’s invitation to Jewish genocide promoter, Al Qaeda ally and terrorist Iranian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a private dinner party is a morally reprehensible act and a major affront to decent people, especially the Jewish alumni and donors of Columbia University,” Klein wrote.
Columbia students said they are mostly used to hearing incorrect reports about their school from Fox News.
“Well that’s just Fox News. Didn’t we already establish that they’re biased? I don’t really expect much from them,” Sean Francis, SEAS ‘13, said.
“This is a very well-respected university. It’s a community that should foster open dialogue, and it is a misrepresentation that all viewpoints aren’t valued here,” Damien LaRock, TC, said.
Alejandra Oliva, Anushka Lobo, and Kandace Fuller contributed reporting.