NEW YORK

SEPTEMBER 25 2008 10:11h

Accused of Anti-Semitism, Ahmadinejad Meets Jews

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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The group is a small anti-Zionist organization that says it adheres strictly to the Torah, the Jewish holy book.

A day after being accused of making anti-Semitic comments at the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met a fringe group of ultra-religious Jews who seek the dismantling of the state of Israel.

"Zionism has greatly weakened and, God willing, it will be destroyed soon and then all Jews, Muslims and Christians can live peacefully with one another," Ahmadinejad told nearly a dozen rabbis from Neturei Karta International on Wednesday.

The group is a small anti-Zionist organization that says it adheres strictly to the Torah, the Jewish holy book, which it says forbids the establishment of a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah. It supports Palestinian sovereignty over the Holy Land and financial restitution for past losses.

Its views are considered marginal by mainstream Jews who condemned Ahmadinejad's speech on Tuesday as anti-Semitic, as did several world leaders, human rights groups and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Marty Irom, spokesman for the non-profit group the Israel Project, which promotes security and peace in Israel, said Neturei Karta was a "very tiny fringe group that represents only themselves." He said such meetings gave Ahmadinejad an "air of legitimacy which he should not have."

Ahmadinejad railed against "Zionist murderers" in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, dwelling on what he described as Zionist control of international finance, echoing the libel that blamed a world Jewish conspiracy for all the world's troubles.

At Wednesday's meeting with the group, which also goes by the English name "Jews United Against Zionism," Ahmadinejad said Zionism was a political movement "that seeks wealth and power" and was "corrupting the earth."

Nearly a dozen rabbis dressed in the black garb of ultra-Orthodox Jews sat around a table with Ahmadinejad and his delegation and posed for photographs after the meeting in a Manhattan hotel.

"That we have the honor and privilege to meet with such a distinguished person who understands the difference between Zionism and Judaism is for us a tremendously happy occasion," the group's senior Rabbi, Moshe Ber Beck, told Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped off the map. He has referred to the Holocaust as a myth and his government held a conference in 2006 questioning the fact that Nazis used gas chambers to kill 6 million Jews in World War Two.

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, spokesman for the group, said Ahmadinejad was no enemy of the Jewish people, that many thousands of Jews lived in Iran without persecution and that the Iranian president was not a Holocaust denier.

Ahmadinejad spoke about World War Two in general terms as "one of the most abhorrent acts" in history. "Numerous crimes occurred against everyone," he said, through an interpreter.

Ahmadinejad ended by praying with the rabbis, saying: "God, please nullify the propaganda waged by the Zionists, and let them lose hope, and make victorious your deserved people."