NEW YORK -- When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes the stage at Columbia Monday, it will be in a building funded by a billionaire U.S. Marine pilot who gave generously to Jewish causes.
Alfred Lerner Hall, the main student center, was named for the late Jewish philanthropist and Marine hero who gave the school a $25 million donation.
It is an "obscenity" that the Iranian is speaking there, said Rabbi Gerald Skolnik of Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, to which Lerner also gave.
"To have a Holocaust-denying, nuclear-aspiring hatemonger speaking in a hall that bears his name in the interest of `free speech,' it's just the wrong person in the wrong place," Skolnik said.
Lerner, who died in 2002 at 69, was born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrants. He graduated from Columbia in 1955 and served in the Marines as a pilot. A successful businessman, he became chairman of MBNA Corp., the second-largest credit-card issuer in the world.
Lerner owned the Cleveland Browns football team, where he created a fund to help survivors of responders who were killed on Sept. 11, and donated substantial sums to the Cleveland Clinic. He also gave generously to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which assists the aging unsung heroes from World War II who helped save Jews during the Holocaust and educates teachers about the genocide.
Copyright 2007, New York Daily News. Reprinted via NewsCom.