Ahmadinejad protest 224..
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Emotions ran high at Columbia University on Monday, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on campus - to the disgust of many but with the approval of others.
In front of the school's gates on Broadway in northern Manhattan, Stephen Gruber, 51, held up his Columbia diploma along with a sign reading: "Diploma for sale - 50 cents."
"My father is a graduate of this school, and he passed away. I am going to return his degree posthumously. They have diminished the value of my [own] diploma, which is why I have it on sale for 50 cents," Gruber said.
Colin Felsman, 20, a currently enrolled student, said the visit was a great opportunity, adding: "He's the president of Iran, not the president of the world. Columbia University is acting in solidarity with the two-thirds of Iranians under the age of 30 who lack the ability to confront President Ahmadinejad."
Saeed Ganji, 52, an Iranian immigrant who has lived in the US for 35 years, was outraged by Ahmadinejad's visit. "Whose turn is it next year?" he asked. "Osama bin Laden's?"
Ganji, a member of the National Union for Democracy in Iran, said Ahmadinejad's Islamic Republic did not represent Iranians. "Ahmadinejad is taking the 70 million people of Iran hostage," he said.
Standing on the steps of Columbia's Low Library, student Sahil Vora, 17, said the visit was a good example of free speech. "This is the first time Americans can actually press Ahmadinejad on his views, so his words can't be manipulated by [Iran's] state press," he said.
Jon Hollander, 18, supported Ahmadinejad's right to speak on campus, "but only so that we can challenge him. His nuclear weapons program is an existential threat to Israel. People said before the Holocaust that things would blow over and we're getting into the same mind-set."
Outside the campus, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn said his constituency, which included the Boro Park neighborhood, had many Holocaust survivors. "My mother is a survivor of Auschwitz," he said. "To permit the 'Little Hitler' into Columbia University is beyond sick."
While Jewish students gathered on the library steps to sing songs of solidarity with Israel such as "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu" and "Lo Yisa Goy," three Israeli doctoral students spoke of the strong feelings they had about Ahmadinejad's visit.
Keren Azulay emphasized that she didn't oppose visit simply because she was Israeli or Jewish. "Letting him come here and shaking his hand is a way of legitimizing his views," she said.
Ori Herstein said he and the other Israeli students didn't want to make this into a Jewish issue, "but it's obviously very difficult to see someone calling for the annihilation of our country, our parents, our family and ourselves."
Gur Bligh said, "There is definitely anti-Semitism going on here. Nobody would agree to have [the late Chilean president Augusto] Pinochet or a KKK leader come speak here."
Eshel Rave, an Israeli whose boyfriend studies at the Columbia Business School, said, "They're giving an opportunity for anti-Semites to go up and speak - giving approval under the guise of academic freedom and freedom of speech. It's extremely weird to give someone like this, with blood on his hands, [the opportunity] to speak at a place like this."
Maryam Jazini, 23, a Columbia alumna wearing a white head scarf who moved to the US from Iran when she was nine, said she was happy Ahmadinejad was speaking at the school, but disagreed with many of his policies. "I think denying the Holocaust is defenseless," she said. "There are so many people in the Iranian government that disagree [on the issue]."
A 28-year-old Iranian industrial engineering student, who declined to be named because of Iran's relationship with Israel, said Ahmadinejad had tried to correct himself with regard to denying the Holocaust. "The number of Jews killed is not important," she said. "Even if one Jew died, it's terrible."
Then, in a line uttered in the past by Ahmadinejad, her husband said not only Jews died during WWII.
When it comes Ahmadinejad's desire to destroy Israel, "I think no one in Iran believes in a military attack by Iran on Israel," the Iranian student said.
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