Mennonites Organize Meeting With Ahmadinejad, Again

Prominent Christian leaders recently showed deference to the leader of a regime that murders its opponents and practices Jew-bating on an international scale at a low-profile meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The meeting was organized by the Mennonite Central Committee, a group which, like Ahmadinejad, openly questions the legitimacy of a sovereign Jewish State in the Middle East.


While attendees went out of their way to extend courtesies to Ahmadinejad, one participant obliquely chided Jewish leaders in the U.S. for refusing to participate in “dialogue” with a Holocaust denier who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map


The leaders met with the Iranian president after he addressed the United Nations on September 26. According to The New York Times, Albert Lobe, executive director of the Mennonite Central committee told Ahmadinejad “We meant to extend to you the hospitality which a head of state deserves.”


Lobe’s obsequiousness was an apparent counterpoint to the treatment Ahmadinejad received at Columbia University on Sept. 24, when the school’s president Lee Bollinger called him “a petty and cruel dictator.”


According to a report from the Church of the Brethren News Service, Ahmadinejad took questions from a panel that included a Quaker, a Catholic, an Anglican, a Baptist and a representative the World Council of Churches. The New York Times reports that the audience comprised of “about 140 religious leaders.” The paper also reported that the event organizers had tried to find a “Jewish leader to join the panel of questioners, but that those invited declined because they could not win support from Jewish organizations.”


The refusal of Jewish groups to participate in the dialogue prompted oblique criticism from Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee. McNish told The New York Times that her “heart was broken that there was so little support from other religions to be here.” She also stated that “If we don’t walk down this path of dialogue, we’re going to end up in a conflagration.”
But while there was oblique criticism of Jewish leaders for refusing to participate, Iranian officials got a pass for insisting that representatives of the Bahai faith be denied access to the meeting. According to The New York Times, representatives of the Bahai faith, a persecuted religious minority in Iran, supported efforts at dialogue even though they were not allowed to attend the Sept. 26 event. The New York Times reported that “the Iranian side refused to come if the Bahais were there, said Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States.”

The meeting took place under tight security at the Interfaith Tillman Chapel near the United Nations in New York City. The New York Times described the meeting as “a friendly, even warm, exchange.” The Times also reported “Given the furor over Ahmadinejad’s earlier appearances, there was no advance publicity.”

This is not the first time the MCC has facilitated a meeting of Christian leaders with Ahmadinejad. In February, the MCC organized a meeting with the Iranian President in Teheran. The delegation held a press conference in Washington, D.C. upon its return to the U.S. Christian leaders reportedly challenged Ahmadinejad about his anti-Semitic statements, but their complaints had little apparent effect. Four days after the delegation’s meeting Ahmadinejad appeared in Sudan, where according to Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran‘s official news service), he said “Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan.”

One troubling aspect of these repeated meetings with Ahmadinejad is that they were organized by the Mennonite Central Committee, an organization that has openly and repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of a sovereign Jewish State in the Middle East. In a book published earlier this year, What Is Palestine-Israel? author Sonia K. Weaver states that a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has “several distinct advantages.” Sonia K. Weaver, who has served as an MCC peaceworker in the Middle East with her husband Alain Epp Weaver, continues:

Having one state would allow Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes. In contrast, under many versions of the two-state solution discussed by Palestinians, Israelis and international mediators, Palestinian refugees would be repatriated to the new state of Palestine, but would not be allowed to return to their original homes in what is now Israel. The two-state solution, furthermore, does not address the systematic discrimination faced by Palestinian Christians and Muslims inside Israel. (What is Palestine-Israel?, pages 60-61).


The MCC’s support for Israel’s dismantling is also evident in an article published in the Spring 2007 issue of Cornerstone, a newsletter published by Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center headquartered in Jerusalem. In this piece, Alain Epp Weaver, writes:
After the horrors of the Shoah, it is understandable that the idea of Israel as a safe haven with a Jewish majority would be so important to many Jews.  But must such a haven be tied to a project of maintaining and projecting a Jewish majority by any and all means? Might not a bi-national future in one state be one in which Palestinians and Israelis alike both sit securely under vine and fig tree?


The belief that Jewish sovereignty is the problem, a notion routinely proffered by MCC peace activists, is also shared by Ahmadinejad who wrote the following in a letter to President George Bush in 2006:

Young people, university students and ordinary people have many questions about the phenomenon of Israel. I am sure you are familiar with some of them. Throughout history many countries have been occupied, but I think the establishment of a new country with a new people, is a new phenomenon that is exclusive to our times. Students are saying that sixty years ago such a country did no(t) exist. The(y) show old documents and globes and say try as we have, we have not been able to find a country named Israel.
I tell them to study the history of WWI and II. One of my students told me that during WWII, which more than tens of millions of people perished in, news about the war, was quickly disseminated by the warring parties. Each touted their victories and the most recent battlefront defeat of the other party. After the war, they claimed that six million Jews had been killed. Six million people that were surely related to at least two million families. Again let us assume that these events are true. Does that logically translate into the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East or support for such a state? How can this phenomenon be rationalised or explained?
Mr President, I am sure you know how – and at what cost – Israel was established : Many thousands were killed in the process. Millions of indigenous people were made refugees. Hundred(s) of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages were destroyed. This tragedy is not exclusive to the time of establishment; unfortunately it has been ongoing for sixty years now. A regime has been established which does not show mercy even to kids, destroys houses while the occupants are still in them, announces beforehand its list and plans to assassinate Palestinian figures and keeps thousands of Palestinians in prison. Such a phenomenon is unique – or at the very least extremely rare – in recent memory. Another big question asked by people is why is this regime being supported? (Emphasis added.)
Whatever differences there are between them, the Weavers and Ahmadinejad agree on one thing: Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East – not Arab and Muslim attempts to undermine it – is the cause of suffering in the region.

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