Rektor for Colombia University, Lee Bollinger, var blitt kritisert for møtet med Ahmadinejad. I hilsningstalen ville han demonstrere at universitetet hadde sin kritiske sans i behold og kom med meget direkte kritikk av undertrykkelsen i Iran.
Det var derfor en noe stiv og anspent president som møtte forsamlingen. Ahmadinejad fikk mange spørsmål om Holocaust, som han flere ganger har sådd tvil om. Det samme gjentok seg denne gang: Han sa det var et faktum, men begynte så å snakke om forskeres rett til å være uenige. Det ble oppfattet som et forsvar for revisjonistene.
Det samme gjentok seg med 911, som han fordømte, men så begynte han å snu på ordene og plutselig var det ikke så enkelt hvem som lå bak likevel.
Ahmadinejad smiled at first but appeared increasingly agitated, decrying the «insults» and «unfriendly treatment.» Columbia President Lee Bollinger and audience members took him to task over Iran’s human-rights record and foreign policy, as well as Ahmadinejad’s statements denying the Holocaust and calling for the disappearance of Israel.
«Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,» Bollinger said, to loud applause.
He said Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust might fool the illiterate and ignorant.
«When you come to a place like this it makes you simply ridiculous,» Bollinger said. «The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history.»
Ahmadinejad rose, also to applause, and after a religious invocation, said Bollinger’s opening was «an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here.»
During a question and answer session, Ahmadinejad appeared tense and unsmiling, in contrast to more relaxed interviews and appearances earlier in the day.
In response to one audience, Ahmadinejad denied he was questioning the existence of the Holocaust: «Granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?»
But then he said he was defending the rights of European scholars, an apparent reference to a small number who have been prosecuted under national laws for denying or minimizing the Holocaust.
«There’s nothing known as absolute,» he said.
He reiterated his desire to visit ground zero to express sympathy with the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, but then appeared to question whether al-Qaida was responsible.
«Why did this happen? What caused it? What conditions led to it?» he said. «Who truly was involved? Who was really involved and put it all together?»
Asked about executions of homosexuals in Iran, Ahmadinejad said the judiciary system executed violent criminals and high-level drug dealers, comparing them to microbes eliminated through medical treatment. Pressed specifically about punishment of homosexuals, he said: «In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.»
With the audience laughing derisively, he continued: «In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have this.»