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Columbia U. Threatened With Lawsuit Over Ahmadinejad Visit; UPDATE: Columbia Responds, No Visit

See update below from Columbia University spokesperson, who says the school never “planned or considered” hosting a dinner for Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Columbia University has hosted Iranian President Ahmadinejad in years past, but the upcoming banquet it’s reportedly planning for the universally-loathed leader might not go as smoothly this time around.

An Israeli law center is vowing to hit Columbia University with massive lawsuits if it goes ahead with the banquet, according to a letter the legal group sent to university president Lee Bollinger and obtained by COMMENTARY:

Hosting Ahmadinejad at a banquet is not merely morally repulsive: it is illegal and will expose Columbia University and its officers to both criminal prosecution and civil liability to American citizens and others victimized by Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

Iran is officially designated under U.S. law as a state-sponsor of terrorism, as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a perpetrator of human rights abuses. Ahmadinejad is Iran’s chief executive and personally directs Iran’s terrorist and nuclear proliferation activities and human rights abuse. …

The planned Columbia University event for Ahmadinejad would constitute the type of seemingly innocuous material support that would render both Columbia University and you personally criminally and civilly liable notwithstanding any putative First Amendment claims.

Shurat HaDin, the Israeli law center that sent the letter, requested that Bollinger “immediately provide us confirmation” the university will take steps to cancel the event. Otherwise, the group says it will “feel a moral obligation to take all measures permitted to ensure that the laws are enforced.”

According to a recent Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, even providing innocuous support to terrorists is considered unlawful. It’s not clear whether that includes state sponsors of terrorism.

Shurat HaDin is the same organization that used targeted lawsuits to block the Gaza flotilla in July, so it has a history of success with high-profile cases. I contacted Columbia University for a response and to check the status of the event, and will post an update when I hear back.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Columbia University, Robert Hornsby, emails that an Ahmadinejad visit was never planned, and news reports to the contrary are inaccurate:

“At no time has there been any university event planned or considered involving the president of Iran and President Bollinger, nor has there ever been any plan for a dinner involving the Iranian president on campus.   Media reports to the contrary have no basis in fact and we hope they will be corrected.”

According to Hornsby, the mistaken reports were based on an article in the Columbia student newspaper. The paper reported that students in the Columbia International Relations Council and Association were planning to attend a dinner with Ahmadinejad during his visit to the UN General Assembly.


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