A coalition of U.S. religious groups exchanged views with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a New York hotel.
The dialogue Thursday, sponsored by Mennonite, Quaker and other religious groups that press for world peace, had been sharply criticized by Jewish groups for allegedly legitimating the Iranian president’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and his oppression of religious minorities in Iran.
Speakers included Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the Jewish Renewal movement. In a story disseminated by the Mennonite Central Committee, Gottlieb said that during her remarks she spoke about the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad has denied.
“Because of the Holocaust, I learned from the rabbis who ordained and guide me, to be active in preventing further suffering of all human beings as a primary religious call to action,” Gottlieb said.
In an interview with Reuters afterwards, Gottlieb said Ahmadinejad “minimized” the Holocaust during the dialogue but did not outright deny that it had taken place.
Also speaking was Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest and Nicaraguan diplomat who is currently president of the U.N. General Assembly.
The Mennonite report said that speakers raised religious repression in Iran, but Ahmadinejad did not address their questions in his talk; nor did he take questions afterward, as had been planned. Much of his talk focused on attacking Israel.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government group that advises the legislative and executive branches, had called on the organizers not to hold the dinner.
“While organizations such as yours espouse the value of mutual understanding through dialogue, in this case we are convinced that this invitation and this platform will be counterproductive,” USCIRF said in a letter. “President Ahmadinejad has manipulated such dialogues repeatedly into a platform for spreading hatred.”
Protesters outside the hotel held up signs reading “No feast with the beast.”