Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University in New York on Monday resulted in one clear loser: Israel.
In his speech, Ahmadinejad took aim at Israel. If he managed to convince one person of his views on Israel and Zionism, then he has already gained. If he managed to persuade 50, then he has gained even more.
For months, Israel worked fervently to prevent what happened on the podium Monday. For the duration of his speech, Ahmadinejad produced a televised illusion: It is not Iran versus the world, but Iran versus Israel.
If he manages to convince enough people of this, the mirage could become reality and Israel would be isolated, and that is exactly what Ahmadinejad is trying to accomplish.
The visiting Iranian even berated his listeners for condemning him before they had given him a chance to speak. He patiently explained that their behavior was impolite. He went on to offer a thorough explanation of his Holocaust denial. All he wanted was to promote research in the field, he said. How could an enlightened university that supports freedom of expression oppose that?
The protesters outside only served to reinforce his claims, as many were Jews wearing skullcaps who carried signs protesting his Holocaust denial and calls to wipe Israel off the map. To many, this serves as further proof that Iran is only a problem for Israel, or at most for the Jews.
Ahmadinejad aimed precisely for that. “It’s the Israelis, stupid” was his primary message. Forget about the “Palestinian problem,” Ahmadinejad was telling his listeners. “Instead, we need to solve the Israeli problem – and finally bring peace to the Middle East.” While he did not explicitly reiterate his calls for Israel’s destruction, in practice, the message could not have been clearer.
The pro-Israel camp consoled itself with the knowledge that those who are familiar with the regional complexities, and with Tehran’s antics, will surely realize the absurdity of Ahmadinejad’s proposal.
But the average American is not familiar with the regional complexities. He is tired of the region’s fighting. To him, Ahmadinejad’s idea may sound tempting.