Thursday, September 20, 2007

Free Speech! Ahmadinejad to Speak at Columbia

You gotta hand it to the Daily News.

They know a madman when they see him.

Shockingly, the white-tressed Columbia U president, Lee Bollinger, whom I often pass on runs around the Central Park Jackie Onassis reservoir and whose manse is located down the block from my own Columbia U. apartment, lacks that good judgment.

Evidently, he has invited Ahmadinejad to speak on campus next Monday as part of the World Leaders Forum, to be held at SIPA: The School of International and Public Affairs.

Sadly, I'll miss this partay as I am leaving for Israel on Sunday night, unless Ahmadinejad succeeds in wiping it off the map, as he has publicly pledged to do.

Anyhoo...things seem to be getting more and more that break-out-into-a-sweat-and-contemplate-moving-to-Israel kind of way.

And there is a ring of deja vu to this forthcoming event, reminding me of an infamous evening in the winter of '05 when Daniel Barenboim turned a lecture on playing Wagner in Israel into a demented rant against Israel...with Bollinger aiding and abetting him from the front row of Miller Theatre.

This incident, witnessed by your own Bungalow Babe and HOBB (husband of Bungalow Babe), resulted in a sleepless night where the two of us wrote furious e-mails to Whiteylocks, resulting in a personal meeting for HOBB and a personal email to me wherein LeeBo claimed he, too, was horrified by what Barenboim had to say and deliberately did not clap at the end of his presentation.

Wow. You gotta be impressed by such a courageous act of public dissent.

This incident, incidentally, formed the inspiration for The Jerusalem Lover, a novella I recently completed. At the end of this posting, you will find an excerpt.

Meanwhile, here's how the acting SIPA dean, John Coatsworth rationalizes the school's decision:

"Opportunities to hear, challenge, and learn from controversial speakers of different views are central to the education and training of students for citizenship in a shrinking and dangerous world."

And I would have provided a soundbyte from LeeBo himself, but the Spec website appears to be currently unavailable, inundated, no doubt, by incredulous reporters, producers, editors and regular ole folks, thinking, say it ain't so, LeeBo!

I do, however, recall reading shizz earlier where LeeBo promises to hit up mah main man Mahmoud with difficult and challenging questions during the course of this circus...uh, event.

Too bad I can't be here to lob my own question at the madman. It would be:

"Could you stand really still so I can wipe you off the map?"

Giving up the fight to convince LeeBo of the error of his ways, Columbia/Barnard Hillel's Israel Va'ad sent around this emergency memo last night:

Ahmadinejad’s views on Israel, Women, homosexuals and his denial of the Holocaust have been called “repugnant” by many leaders, including our own President Bollinger.The event is surely a contentious one and pressing for the entire Hillel community. We wanted to alert you to this and give you the opportunity to register for the event so that we can all be there to challenge Ahmadinejad on his objectionable views.

And here you have it...another reason why it's increasingly hard for Jews to look inward this Yom Kippur.

The madman of Iran is coming to town. Speaking at the Columbia University campus, directly across the street from the Urban Bungalow. At the special invitation of President Lee Bollinger.

Looking inward at such a time could be harmful, or fatal to one's health.

I'd like to conclude today's post with the aforementioned excerpt from The Jerusalem Lover, coming soon to a bookstore near you. You will recognize Bollinger as the inspiration for the fictional character of Martin Holloway, Columbia U president.

And with a reminder that the root of evil is not supernatural.

Evil happens because otherwise good people allow it.

From The Jerusalem Lover

The line outside of Miller Theatre snaked up Broadway, ending at the tip of West 118th Street. Holding a ticket and shivering, Dan Seligman wondered why the theatre’s public relations office couldn’t get their act together. It was ridiculous, really, how they had failed to furnish press tickets or a press kit or even answer his e-mails or phone calls. The entire episode was either an exercise in stonewalling or sheer incompetence. Perhaps both.

Appearing tonight at Miller Theatre was controversial Columbia professor, Elisha Rosensweig. His subject for the evening was “Israel/IsNOTReal.” The copy on the fliers, posted all over the campus, promised a “provocative evening from a provocative thinker.” One week before the appointed evening, the event had sold out.

Dan, who was on assignment from the Columbia Spectator that evening, was three months into his college career, a wide-eyed freshman hailing from Oakland, California, madly in love with New York. One year earlier, he had traveled east with his mother to see twelve campuses forming a protracted triangle from Maine to Chicago to Maryland. Columbia was the first stop on their trip. After spending six hours on the campus, Dan declared the college tour officially over. He would be applying only to Columbia University, he informed his mother. If he didn’t get in, he would apply for a job there and spend every waking hour on campus, auditing classes.

An exceptional student, Dan was admitted to Columbia on early decision and granted a freshman dorm in Carmen, the ugly-as-sin building fronting West 114th Street, designed for first-year-students. His roommate was the son of a folk musician from New Hampshire and the roommate’s friends became Dan’s surrogate family. He loved every one of his classes, including the First Year writing seminar, considered a deadly requirement by every member of the student body. Following the recommendation of his writing professor, he joined the Spectator as a feature writer.

This Monday night’s event constituted Dan’s fifth assignment for the Spec. His beat was loosely defined as cultural events that fell outside of film, dance, music, theatre or art. Though the staff argued at some length over whether Professor Rosensweig’s lecture was culture or news, the assignment was unanimously handed to Dan, who had been hearing wildly conflicting reports about him since virtually his first week on campus and had been curious to hear the man and draw his own conclusions.

The night was icy-cold for early November and Dan could have kicked himself for running out of Carmen dressed only in a t-shirt, jeans and thin blazer. On his feet were his over-worn and much-loved Birkenstocks, bought in Berlin the previous summer. When a matron joined the line, wrapped in a fur coat, Dan forgot his anti-fur sentiments and coveted the dead animal with all his heart.

After an interminable crawl towards the entrance, Dan was inside Miller Theatre. He strode to the staircase, scoring a front-row seat in the balcony. On his way, he passed the audio-visual crew setting up their recording equipment. Stepping gingerly over the wires, he patted his microscopic tape-recorder, nestled in his breast pocket next to his thin reporters’ notebook.

A flow of humanity filled the theatre. Seats were snatched like life rafts on a sinking ship and students sat on steps and lined the back walls. In the front row orchestra, Dan made out the form of university President Martin Holloway, the provost Marlin Jennings and numerous faculty members of the university. Opening his notebook, he began taking notes.

Within minutes, the program began, with an introduction from President Holloway about the value of an academic institution such as Columbia hosting events wherein controversial views were to be aired. “What is a university, if not a universe of forces and ideas, often colliding?” he asked rhetorically and rather moronically, thought Dan. The mike was handed over to a young girl whom Dan recognized from the spate of anti-Israel protests on campus that fall. She was fair skinned, freckled and tall…saved from boring Mid-western wholesomeness by the ratty black kafiyeh wrapped around her curly red hair.

“I’m Claire Bernstein?” she squeaked into the microphone. “As founder and president of CSAZO? -- Columbia Students Against Zionist Oppression? – it is my great pleasure to introduce to you a modern hero? a man who is not afraid to stand up to the fascist regime of Israel? a noble truth-seeker who has risked his life to transmit his message and hope for peace? an important thinker who will reveal the racist policies and programs of the country that is the worst violator of human rights today?…Dr. Elisha Rosensweig!”

Dan swiveled his head around, eager to catch the audience’s reaction. Claire Bernstein seemed to him a caricature of an activist, light on the facts, heavy on the moral outrage. Last year it was Take Back the Night, this year it was The Unpardonable Crimes of Israel. She probably spent her school breaks denouncing her parents’ Zionism to their faces, screaming at them for being such hypocrites. Next year she might be marching with PETA and pouring buckets of red paint on fur-wearing women. Who could take her seriously?

“Free Palestine!” screamed a girl directly in back of Dan. The theatre reverberated with lusty applause as Claire Bernstein sashayed off the stage, passing the lumbering Elisha Rosensweig who paused to hug her before assuming the podium himself, powerful, erect, electric. He gripped the sides of the lectern as he scowled out at his audience. Learning over the railing, Dan saw President Holloway, returned to his front row seat, clapping vigorously, his face frozen in a mask of sheer and abject terror.

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