Local religious and civic leaders reacted with outrage Monday to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's accusation that the West was using the Holocaust as a "pretext" for aggressions against Palestinians.
Rabbi Steven Moss, chairman of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said e-mails had already been circulating in the Jewish community for weeks that the UN conference on racism, held in Geneva, was a "farce."
"It's really hard to give any credence to what the president of Iran says," said Moss, who is also head of the B'nai Israel synagogue in Oakdale. "The real focus of this conference, its intention from the very beginning simply was to discredit Israel."
He added that "it's very important that the UN should be seen as a body where all nations come together in a sense of equality in order to discuss the important issues of the world" instead of becoming "highly politicized. It's sad."
Habeeb Ahmed, chairman of the board of the Westbury-based Islamic Center of Long Island, said: "I do condemn what he [Ahmadinejad] said. I think he is out of line. The Iranian president has been known to say whatever comes into his mind without realizing what he is saying."
He added that Ahmadinejad has said similarly provocative things previously, such as questioning Israel's right to exist. While Ahmed condemned that, he also said Israel's occupation of areas such as Gaza - and its recent offensive there - is a "problem." Gaza, he added, "is like a jail."
New York's new senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also weighed in, stating: "I find President Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel abhorrent. Gillibrand said Ahmadinejad's statement Monday "could legitimize some of the world's most dangerous anti-Semites."
She added that "I commend President Obama and Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton for withdrawing the American delegation from the conference and further commend Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland for joining our boycott."
Arvind Vora, chairman of the Long Island Multi-Faith Forum, said he found the spectacle in Geneva sad. "The problem we have is that we don't live with our neighbors and fellow human beings in peace and harmony," he said.