BEIRUT, Lebanon - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wished the world a merry Christmas yesterday - even though he believes much of it is in crisis because the West's "bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist" leaders have strayed far from Jesus' path.
In a recorded message to air Christmas Day on Britain's Channel 4, Ahmadinejad praised Christianity but went on to say that if Christ returned to Earth, "he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems."
Ahmadinejad did not say specifically what he meant, but presumably he was referring to the policies of the United States and Western European countries, which have imposed economic sanctions on Iran to discourage Iran's nuclear-enrichment program.
The Iranian president was invited to speak to the British public as part of the channel's annual "Alternative Christmas Message," following an address to the nation by Queen Elizabeth II.
Previous alternative Christmas guests have included the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the cast from the animated series
The Board of Deputies of British Jews - which represents the Jewish community in Britain - said the broadcast was offensive.
"To invite him to deliver a Christmas message, even a so-called alternative one, fills me with disgust," the group's president, Henry Grunwald, said, according to the Associated Press.
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.
British human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the broadcaster was "aiding and abetting a tyrant."
Ahmadinejad, a loquacious leader who relishes the media limelight, recorded the six-minute greeting in Tehran, Iran's capital, on Tuesday.
"As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential," news chief Dorothy Byrne said in a statement posted to Channel 4's Web site,
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, which will Webcast the speech.
"As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view," she said.
Though Ahmadinejad has called for Israel's destruction, the president's Muslim faith recognizes both Christian and Jewish prophets and texts that predated Islam.
Ahmadinejad's message, in Persian with English subtitles, included warm Yuletide greetings and wishes of "happiness, prosperity, peace and brotherhood for humanity."
Ahmadinejad mentioned neither the United States nor Israel in the Christmas talk, according to a translated transcript of the speech obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
But his message also was barbed with a critique of the West, saying that "crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy" have occurred because world leaders have forsaken Jesus' role as "the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice."