Who Was There And Who Wasn’t?
ZOA in the news
September 24, 2008

 



Who Was There And Who Wasn’t?


by Stewart Ain
Staff Writer


09/24/2008


They wore buttons at Monday’s rally against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that bore his picture with the words “Not Welcome” beneath it.

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel was equally blunt, telling thousands of protesters in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza outside the United Nations that he had a simple message for the Iranian president: “Please go home.”
And Dalia Itzik, the Knesset speaker, wearing a bulletproof vest at the insistence of security personnel, told the crowd that Ahmadinejad’s anti-Jewish rhetoric reminded her of Nazi Germany.
“The nightmare is back,” she said.


 Left unsaid from the podium but clearly on the minds of those in attendance was the absence of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Clinton pulled out last week after learning from reporters that Palin planned to attend. Her office explained that she did not know it was going to be a partisan event.


The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and other sponsors waited a day or so before inviting Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Biden. When he was unable to attend, the situation began to unravel and rally organizers considered canceling the rally.

In the end, it was decided that Palin and all elected officials not participate, as some of the organizations involved — including UJA-Federation of New York, the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — feared that otherwise their tax-exempt status could be challenged because they are not permitted to participate in or intervene in any political campaign.

But politics was evident at the rally — if not on the podium then among those in attendance. There were a number of McCain-Palin signs and a few that had a picture of Palin on one side and the words, “Where is Sarah?” on the other. And one sign asked, “Why would Hillary protest Palin, not Ahmadinejad? Shame on Hillary.”

No Obama-Biden signs were in evidence, adding to the perception that Monday’s event drew a primarily right-wing audience.

Heshy Friedman of Flatbush, who held aloft a McCain-Palin sign, said he was upset with the decision not to let Palin speak. He insisted that a McCain-Palin administration would allow Israel to defend itself but that an Obama-Biden administration would “never allow Israel to have a first strike with military weapons.”
Sandy Wasserman, a Jewish day school teacher from Plainview, L.I., looked at the McCain-Palin signs and expressed displeasure.

“It shouldn’t be overly political,” she said of the rally. “I know of free speech, but I think the rally has taken a new turn. … I’m glad [Palin] was disinvited. This shouldn’t be a pit stop for those campaigning. I don’t think Palin knows anything about Israel.”

Gov. Palin’s prepared remarks were published Monday in The New York Sun, in which she said that Ahmadinejad “must be stopped” by, first, succeeding in Iraq. “If we retreat without leaving a stable Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be bolstered,” the text said. Palin said Iran “is not only a regional threat; it threatens the entire world.” And she had praise for Senator Clinton’s call for stronger sanctions against Iran. “John McCain and I could not agree more,” Palin noted.

The controversy over the candidates may have held down attendance, according to Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. He said he received many e-mails from people urging him not to attend because Gov. Palin had been asked not to participate.

“We insulted a powerful, important person,” he said. “We need politicians with us, not angry at us. Only the people who can do something [politicians] were disinvited.”

Neera Goitein of Manhattan, who carried a McCain-Palin sign, said she had not planned to attend because of the controversy. But she changed her mind, she said, after her rabbi encouraged everyone to go.
“Ninety percent of the reason I’m here is that Ahmadinejad is a racist and he will be speaking over there [at the UN] and foolish people are going to give him respect,” she said.

Even though they did not speak from the podium, a number of elected officials attended the rally. A few were acknowledged from the podium. One of them, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, said in an interview that she had attended last year’s rally against Ahmadinejad, and she shrugged off not being able to speak from the podium this year.

“Sometimes mistakes are made along the way,” she said. “Today, the important thing is that we go forward.”
The participants, as at previous rallies, appeared to be primarily yeshiva and college students, many of them  bused to the event. Organizers said that 68 buses with a total of about 3,000 students had come from as far away as Canada. Another 2,000 students from Yeshiva University and Stern College also participated, they said.

Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, one of the sponsors, said the police told him the plaza was so crowded that they had to close it and keep other participants between Second and Third Avenues. He estimated the crowd at “more than 10,000,” though the New York Times reported less than 1,000, and other observers thought it was somewhere between those two figures.

The Times ran two photos with its coverage, but both appeared to have been taken after the rally and showed a total of five participants.

“I was here for the last [rally against Ahmadinejad a year ago],” said Joe Muntner, who came with three other members of his synagogue men’s club in Port Jefferson, L.I. “I don’t think it made any difference, but I had to be here again. Anyone who speaks such evil has to be protested wherever he goes.”
In addition to Itzik, speaker of the Knesset, former refusenik Natan Sharansky and Wiesel also addressed the audience.

In her remarks, Itzik harkened back to Nazi Germany when she said Ahmadinejad’s comments have a familiar ring.

“We again hear threats similar to those last heard in the dark days of the Holocaust,” she said. “The man who brought this back is being allowed to appear here in the United Nations. Some think he’s crazy. Others think he’s arrogant. But whatever the explanation, it tells us to take his threats seriously.”
Sharansky delivered a pep talk to the crowd, telling them, “Hope is not lost. Sometimes we feel as if the world is indifferent and that God does not hear. Twenty years ago in this very place, you, your parents and grandparents came and demanded for the Soviet Union to let our people go. Today, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist. … We know that like in the past we will defeat this evil empire again. This is a fight we can win, a fight we must win, a fight we will win.”

Wiesel directed his remarks directly at Ahmadinejad, telling him: “Please go home. We don’t want you here. Americans don’t want you here. Nobody wants you here. The proper place for Ahmadinejad is not at the UN or universities or social diplomatic dinners but in an international tribunal that charges him with incitement against humanity. He is repeatedly threatening a sovereign nation [Israel] … to wipe it off the map… Such a man, Wiesel said, must be “isolated by civilized society and brought to justice.” Although he is not Hitler, “he follows in Hitler’s footsteps and that makes him an arch criminal. One day he will be apprehended and tried, and his own words will be used by the prosecution. Until then, he must be treated as an international outcast.”


 

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