Ahmadinejad to address UK on Christmas

In holiday TV message, Iranian president will say Jesus would have opposed "expansionist powers."

Ahmadinejad making point 248 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad making point 248 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
A leading British television channel's plans to broadcast a seven-minute "Christmas message" from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has generated angry protests from Israel and other critics of the Islamic republic. According to copies of the speech to be delivered on Thursday, the recorded message will be more political than religious: "If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers. If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over," it reads. The transcript continues: "If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as he did in his lifetime. The solution to today's problems can be found in a return to the call of the divine prophets." Israeli officials were furious. "It is an unprecedented scandal for a prestigious British channel to give the president of Iran such a respectable platform at prime time on Christmas Day," Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said on Wednesday. "Everyone knows Ahmadinejad is an existential threat to Israel and world peace, but absurdly, Channel 4 is permitting him to bamboozle public opinion with unsubstantiated talk of Iran's efforts for peace and reconciliation," Prosor said. The ambassador wondered "if by the same philosophy, where competition for ratings trumps all other considerations, Channel 4 would have hosted Hitler as well." In past years, Channel 4's "alternative Christmas message," delivered alongside the traditional message from Queen Elizabeth II, went relatively unnoticed, with speeches by the likes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a wounded Afghanistan veteran and a cartoon Marge Simpson. But the platform is nevertheless a dramatic one, according to media analyst and former Sunday Telegraph reporter Tom Gross. "The queen's Christmas message is one of the most significant symbols in British society, and Channel 4 News is one of Britain's most prestigious broadcasters. It is equivalent to CNN in America broadcasting an alternative Fourth of July address by Saddam Hussein," Gross said. A Channel 4 spokesman would not respond directly to the embassy's complaint, but told The Jerusalem Post that the public service channel wished "to allow viewers to hear directly from people of worldwide importance, together with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds." He promised the Christmas message would be preceded by "a little film" that would discuss the Iranian president's "record." "Viewers are intelligent enough to judge for themselves. We're offering [Ahmadinejad] the chance to speak for himself, which people in the West don't often get the chance to see," the spokesman said. An Israeli official disagreed with the claim that Channel 4 was providing an objective platform. "It's a seven-minute prepared speech without questions. Is that how you enable people to make up their own minds, with a seven-minute unchallenged speech?" the official asked. Unlike in previous years, the alternative Christmas message will not be aired at the same hour as the queen's - 3 p.m. - but at 7:15 p.m. "We do not wish to imply an equivalence between the two," the Channel 4 spokesman said. "The message is about providing viewers with an insight into an alternative worldview, not an alternative to the queen." But critics of the move said the connection between Ahmadinejad and the Christmas message was inappropriate. "This is a very dubious decision on the part of Channel 4, particularly at a time when we join together to celebrate goodwill and unity," said Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust. "This is a man who has openly and consistently denied the Holocaust and the murder of millions of innocent victims. This should be an opportunity to educate about respect and tolerance instead of offering a platform to someone who represents the antithesis of these principles," she said. In the past, the alternative message "has tended to be innocuous," said Douglas Murray, director of the Centre for Social Cohesion in London. "All I can assume is that as its viewing figures plummet, Channel 4 has decided they would try to attract controversy. But this is the first time [the guest] is a Holocaust denier who would like to create another [Holocaust] and is destabilizing a region of the world." "It is disgraceful. Ahmadinejad is a bigoted dictator," Gross said, noting the Iranian regime's human rights record, which includes killing homosexuals, persecuting minorities such as Kurds, Bahais and Zoroastrians, and recently sentencing a woman to be stoned to death for adultery. "Even by the standards of the British media, this marks a new low," he said. Jonny Paul contributed to this report from London.