NEW YORK (Nov. 9)
Two weeks after Iran’s president called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” American Jews have joined forces with leaders from other faiths to demand that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be held accountable for his remarks. The Ad Hoc Coalition for Justice, a fledgling interfaith group formed in the aftermath of Ahmadinejad’s controversial comments, held a press conference and rally Wednesday across from the Iranian Mission to the United Nations.
The mostly Jewish crowd of 250 or so people heard speakers ranging from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to Richard Holbrooke to leaders representing Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities slam Ahmadinejad, drawing parallels between his call for Israel’s destruction and Hitler’s effort to wipe out European Jewry.
That connection was highlighted by the fact that Wednesday was the 67th anniversary of Kristallnacht,
the night in 1938 when German and Austrian thugs set synagogues and Jewish businesses ablaze, heralding the approaching Holocaust.
“As everyone in this audience knows, too many Jews in Germany did not think Hitler meant it. Too many foreign observers thought he could be contained. They made excuses,” said Holbrooke, the former American ambassador to the United Nations who brokered the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 between warring Bosnian factions.
“When a leader of a country says something as outrageous and as vile as what his been said by the Iranian president — or by Hitler — we must take notice and we must tell them that he and his government must retract it, and they must apologize,” Holbrooke said.
Wiesel sounded a similar theme.
“We shall remember you alongside the other mass murderers who have killed and killed and killed,” he said. “Shame on you, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, for your revolting statement and ugly aspiration of destruction.”
Chants of “Shame on Iran” went up throughout the crowd as students from a local Jewish day school, some sitting on each other’s shoulders, waved Israeli flags and cheered speakers.
Others in the crowd held aloft Iranian flags, while some called for Iran to be kicked out of the United Nations.
The event, organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, with support from several other groups, was put together in 24 hours.
Protests against Ahmadinejad’s comments already had been held in Los Angeles and abroad.
On Sunday, some 3,000 members of the Iranian Jewish community demonstrated in front of the U.S. Federal Building in Los Angeles, likely the biggest rally this community had ever held. They held placards along with American and Israeli flags, and heard speeches.
In the past, American Jewish leaders have struggled with how to protest anti-Jewish activity by the Iranian government because of concerns that strident criticism could lead to a backlash against Iranian Jews.
But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said such concerns should be subsumed by the danger inherent in Ahmadinejad’s remarks.
“When the head of a sovereign country calls for the destruction of Israel, meaning the murder of the Jews of Israel, all bets are off for other concerns — that overrides any other concern,” he told JTA. “Iran and the rest of the world must know that the Jewish community will no longer stand idly by.”
Ahmadinejad called for Israel’s destruction Oct. 26 in a televised anti-Zionist rally in Tehran, setting off a round of condemnations from around the world. Israel said Iran should be expelled from the United Nations, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan postponed a trip to Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the government’s official stance “is that the occupation of Palestine should end, refugees should return and a democratic state should be formed with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Ahmadinejad has refused to back down from his comments.
“I can’t explain to you how appalled I was when I heard his statement,” Mohammed Razvi, of the Pakistani-American Council of People’s Organization, said at the New York rally.
Amcha: The Coalition for Jewish Concerns was planning a rally Wednesday evening by Iran’s U.N. Mission to commemorate Kristallnacht.
Sister Ruth Lautt, national director of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, condemned Ahmadinejad’s comments, classifying them as part of a larger effort to discredit Israel.
“We are equally concerned with more subtle attempts to delegitimize and demonize Israel,” she said. Among those attempts, she said, is an effort by Israel’s detractors to vilify the West Bank security barrier, which has taken some land that Palestinians claim but which has proven markedly effective in reducing terrorism.
Rabbi Michael Miller, JCRC executive vice president, lauded the interfaith nature of the coalition at Wednesday’s rally.
“We need individuals beyond ourselves to speak out when there’s an outrage that needs to be addressed,” he said.
Ira Stoll, managing editor of The New York Sun newspaper, who spoke at the rally, sought to distinguish between the violent rhetoric of the Iranian government and sentiments among the Iranian populace.
“It’s time to send this Iranian government to the archives of history,” he said.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said organizers didn’t want Iran’s leaders to think that outrage had dissipated after the spate of condemnations immediately following Ahmadinejad’s comments.
“We will not be silent,” Hoenlein said. “These protests will continue until the threat is over.”