JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday criticised a U.S. university for hosting Iran’s president, comparing the event to attempts to engage Adolf Hitler in dialogue before World War Two.
During his speech at Columbia University in New York on Monday, President Mahmoud Amhadinejad attacked Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and denied his country’s nuclear programme was aimed at building atomic weapons.
Ahmadinejad has come under international criticism for saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map” and has questioned whether the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews actually took place.
Introducing the Iranian president, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said Ahmadinejad behaved as a “petty and cruel dictator” and that his Holocaust denials suggested he was either “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated”.
Bollinger asked a string of pointed questions, most of which Ahmadinejad ignored in a speech that dwelt at length on science as a gift from God and the importance of using knowledge and learning purely and in a pious way.
But Peres said Columbia’s invitation to the Iranian leader did not fall under the umbrella of free academic expression because Ahmadinejad “simply stood up and lied”.
“I think that Columbia University made a mistake ... With Hitler there was a dialogue. (British Prime Minister Neville) Chamberlain went to talk to him. What did it help? It helped cover the fact that Hitler prepared concentration camps and death camps,” Peres told Reuters.
Israeli government officials have long invoked memories of World War Two in lobbying against Iran, generally as part of appeals for the West not to allow a “second Holocaust”.
“I don’t accept the university’s explanations, because if a university is a platform where lies are permissible, then it is not academic ... So all of yesterday’s show was wretched,” Peres said.
Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has hinted it could resort to military strikes to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, but says it favours economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.