peres good 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday launched a scathing attack against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Columbia University.
Speaking to reporters at the start of his meeting with Greek singer George Dalaras, who is in Israel as a guest of the group Physicians for Human Rights, Peres said he was in favor of academic freedom of expression "on condition that it is based on truth, not lies. Ahmadinejad stood up yesterday and lied to the people of America."
Peres, speaking first in Hebrew and then English, declared that there was no intelligence agency in the world that did not know Teheran was building nuclear bombs.
"He said he doesn't need bombs, so why is he building missiles with a range of 1,500 kilometers?" queried Peres. "How does he intend to equip them?"
Peres also rejected Ahmadinejad's contention that Israel took land by force from the Palestinians, declaring: "We were here first. The Palestinians took the land from Israel. The Jewish people were here before anyone else."
Peres was equally derisive regarding the global referendum Ahmadinejad proposed to determine the suffering Israel had imposed on the Palestinian people, countering that there ought to be a global referendum to decide whether Ahmadinejad serves humanity, peace, truth and the Iranian people.
Columbia was mistaken in giving Ahmadinejad a platform, Peres said.
As for the widely reported statement by Columbia Dean John Coatsworth that if Hitler had come to New York and been "willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, and be challenged by Columbia students and faculty," he would have been invited to speak at the university, Peres noted that Chamberlain had engaged Hitler in dialogue.
"What did it achieve?" Peres asked. "He helped him to camouflage the attempt to conquer Europe and the building of gas chambers and death camps."
If the university provides a platform for lies, it can no longer call itself academic, he asserted, adding that it was regretful that Columbia had enabled the Iranian president to spread his lies.
Entirely dismissive of anything Ahmadinejad said in his Columbia appearance, Peres declared that he had "put on a pathetic performance."
Welcoming Dalaras after reading the reviews of his previous night's concert in the morning papers, Peres told him how popular Greek music was in Israel. He welcomed him not only as a great singer, he said, but also as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency.
"Some people talk peace, you sing peace," he said.
Dalaras - accompanied by his wife Anna, who is also his manager and interpreter - said in Greek that he was most appreciative of the opportunity to meet with Peres, whom he described as an intellectual and a staunch advocate for peace.
"Many people pin their hopes on this part of the world and on this particular president," he said. "We all know about his efforts for peace and are inspired by what he does, and we thank him for continuing."