LONDON (AP) — Iran’s president is offering season’s greetings to Christians in a British TV address and suggests that if Jesus were alive, he would oppose “bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers” — an apparent reference to the U.S. and its allies.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Christmas Day broadcast will be delivered on Britain’s Channel 4 television, occupying a slot that provides an often controversial counterpoint to Queen Elizabeth II’s traditional annual message, the station said Wednesday. A leading British Jewish body said it was appalled.
According to a transcript released in advance, Ahmadinejad says most of the world’s problems stem from leaders who have turned against religion. The Muslim president doesn’t refer to rival nations or leaders by name or mention Israel, despite his past calls to wipe it out.
“If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over,” Ahmadinejad said, according to the English translation of the Farsi-language speech. The broadcast will air with subtitles.
The U.S., Britain and others suspect Iran of developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is intended solely for a civilian energy program.
Ties with Britain were further strained in 2007 when Iran held 15 British sailors and marines prisoner for 13 days.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews — which represents the Jewish community in the United Kingdom — said the broadcast was offensive. “To invite him to deliver a Christmas message, even a so-called alternative one, fills me with disgust,” said the group’s president, Henry Grunwald.
The Israeli ambassador to London condemned the speech as a “bogus message of good will.”
“That (Channel 4) should give an unchallenged platform to the president of a regime which denies the Holocaust, advocates the destruction of the sovereign state of Israel, funds and encourages terrorism, executes children and hangs gay people is a disgrace,” Ron Prosor said. “Outrage doesn’t begin to explain it.”
British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell echoed the comments, saying the broadcaster was “aiding and abetting a tyrant.”
“This is the equivalent of giving (Zimbabwean ruler) Robert Mugabe a prime-time television slot to promote his propaganda,” he said.
Previous guests of Channel 4’s Christmas slot have included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sharon Osborne and the animated TV character Marge Simpson of “The Simpsons.” Last year’s message was delivered by Sgt. Maj. Andrew Stockton, a British soldier badly wounded in Afghanistan.
Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, said Ahmadinejad was picked because Iran’s relations with the West would likely remain a big global issue in 2009.
“As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view,” Byrne said.
The channel broadcast an interview with Ahmadinejad in September 2007, when he insisted Iran wasn’t seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.