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Israeli NGO targets Columbia over Ahmadinejad visit

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September 17, 2011

Shurat HaDin — Israel Law Center plans to initiate legal action against Columbia University in New York for its dinner event with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday.

“Hosting Ahmadinejad at a banquet is not merely morally repulsive: It is illegal and will expose Columbia University and its officers to both criminal prosecution and civil liability to American citizens and others victimized by Iranian- sponsored terrorism,” the Tel Aviv-based NGO wrote to the university’s President Lee Bollinger last week.

The three-page letter was written by attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Shurat HaDin’s director, and the organization’s American counsel, Robert J. Tolchin.

Copies of the letter were sent to US Attorney-General Eric Holder, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, FBI Deputy Director Sean M. Joyce and FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry.

“Iran is officially designated under US law as a state-sponsor of terrorism, as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a perpetrator of human rights abuses.

Ahmadinejad is Iran’s chief executive and personally directs Iran’s terrorist and nuclear proliferation activities and human rights abuse,” Darshan-Leitner and Tolchin wrote.

Columbia’s student newspaper The Spectator reported earlier this month that Ahmadinejad plans to dine with members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association. The council’s vice president, student Tim Chan, said in the Spectator, “Everyone was really enthusiastic,” and “they’re thrilled to have this opportunity.”

Chan told the paper there were no concerns from CIRCA’s members about meeting with Iran’s president.

Writing on the popular US news and blog website Pajamas Media, the site’s CEO, novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon, said, “After having once hosted Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they are doing so again — and this time they are giving the misogynistic, homophobic, Holocaust denying religious fanatic a banquet! The progressive intellectuals of Morningside Heights [the neighborhood where Columbia is located] evidently have a special place in their hearts for state sponsors of terrorism who murder and torture their own citizens with impunity.”

Alana Goodman, a blogger for Commentary Magazine, first reported on Shurat HaDin’s possible lawsuit. She noted that “Shurat HaDin  is the same organization that used targeted lawsuits to block the Gaza flotilla in July, so it has a history of success with high-profile cases.”

Columbia’s Spectator reported on Friday that “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.”

Though Bollinger criticized the Iranian president as a “petty and cruel dictator” at a debate with him at Columbia in 2007, he was roundly criticized in the media for providing an Ivy League university stage to a major human rights violator.

Meanwhile, Iran’s government subjected on Wednesday doctoral student Somayeh Tohidlou to 50 lashes because of her pro-democracy activities.

She is part of the Iran’s opposition Green Movement.

Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, an expert on Iran’s democracy movement and a senior fellow at the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday that “Ms.

Somayeh Tohidlou was sentenced to 50 whips in the Evin Prison on September 14.” The prison guards placed her “feet and hands in chains” in order to apply the whips, he said.

The penalty applied to Tohidlou is “torture,” Wahdat- Hagh told the Post.

According to Wahdat- Hagh’s translation of a Persian- language blog entry from Tohidlou, she wrote, “Be happy, because if you wanted to humiliate me, I confess that I feel my entire body is suffering with degradation. I cannot think that such a form of humiliation will repeat itself.”

She cites a story about Moses from the Bible in her blog, saying “Let your cane fall and do not have fear.”

Tohidlou said she will never forget the whipping. “My pride is broken,” she said.

According to Wahdat-Hagh, Tohidlou cites the Moses story to draw a parallel between the unjust Egyptian pharaonic system and Iran’s anti-democratic regime.

It is common for Iranians to cite the Old Testament and quotes from Moses, Wahdat- Hagh said.