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Rabbi stays away from Ahmadinejad meeting

A rabbi blasted church groups for saying he was pressured into not joining a meeting with Iran’s president.

“I did not decline out of lack of support from any Jewish organization or from unwillingness to dialogue,” Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who heads the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, said in a message to his followers after the Sept. 26 meeting at a U.N. chapel between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and about 100 North American clerics.

A New York Times article quoted organizers as saying that Jews invited to the event “declined because they could not win support from Jewish organizations.” The event was organized by an alliance of the “peace churches,” the Mennonites and Quakers, although many denominations attended.

Waskow said he declined because he had a prior commitment at an anti-Iraq war event in Washington, but also “because the experience of the last year, after all the same concerns were raised by religious leaders to President Ahmedinejad on his last visit to the U.N., suggests to me that he is impervious to dialogue and merely wants to use these meetings to bolster his own weak political position in Iran.”

Waskow noted that he had declined to attend a similar encounter in September 2006, when Ahmadinejad attended the General Assembly opening, because event organizers asked him at the last minute not to raise the Iranian president’s Holocaust denial and his attacks on Israel’s existence.

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