Who Was There And Who Wasnt?
by Stewart Ain
They wore buttons at Mondays 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
And Dalia Itzik, the Knesset speaker, wearing a bulletproof vest at the insistence of security personnel, told the crowd that Ahmadinejads anti-Jewish rhetoric reminded her of Nazi Germany.
The nightmare is back, she said.
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
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 Mondays 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
Sandy Wasserman, a Jewish day school teacher from
It shouldnt be overly political, she said of the rally. I know of free speech, but I think the rally has taken a new turn. … Im glad [Palin] was disinvited. This shouldnt be a pit stop for those campaigning. I dont think Palin knows anything about
Gov. Palins prepared remarks were published Monday in The New York Sun, in which she said that Ahmadinejad must be stopped by, first, succeeding in
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
Ninety percent of the reason Im 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 years 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
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 mens club in Port Jefferson, L.I. I dont 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 Ahmadinejads 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 hes crazy. Others think hes 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
Wiesel directed his remarks directly at Ahmadinejad, telling him: Please go home. We dont want you here. Americans dont 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 [