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Op-Ed: Beyond rallies, how you can stop Iran

Shai Franklin, left, and Micah Halpern. ()

Shai Franklin, left, and Micah Halpern. ()

NEW YORK (JTA) — Alongside many heads of state and prime ministers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly later this month in New York. Jews will turn out across the street to raise voices in protest.

Jews have a legitimate concern about Iran. So should everyone else in the world. Iran’s nuclear program and ongoing support for terrorism are a threat to most nations.

One of the most effective vehicles for countering Iran is getting non-Jews and non-Americans to take public positions.

The Jewish community can have a substantive, indirect impact on Iran’s actions and policies. Here are some of the strategies that could bear fruit if pursued in a coordinated and consistent way:

* A concerted nongovernmental effort must be launched to enlist non-Jewish allies and experts across Latin America, Africa and Europe, even in China. Such partners can push their governments to take a meaningful stand against Iran. Have them push their governments to publicly honor their commitments to international treaties and U.N. Security Council resolutions, and to their own laws.

* Solicit governments to issue joint statements reaffirming sanctions and get governments to sign up their neighbors in the movement to pressure Iran. Most immediately, they should support President Obama if he announces new measures against Iran, which also could help Israel take more risks on the Palestinian track.

* If leaders insist on attending Ahmadinejad’s U.N. address, they should be pressed to clarify at what point they will be prepared to walk out. Will it be if Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, if he questions Israel’s right to exist, if he promotes terrorism and the killing of innocent lives? The act of walking out, as has been proven in the past, leaves a lasting impression, as it did at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva in April.

* Speakers from countries other than the United States and Israel must be encouraged to use part of their own addresses — at the United Nation and at the rallies — to directly confront Iran, telling Iran that the world’s patience has worn thin. They should underscore this message in their side meetings with other world leaders.

The best example of how to use the U.N. General Assembly came two years ago when then-President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina used his address to criticize Iran for its sponsorship of the 1994 AMIA bombing, which killed 86 civilians. Kirchner had standing, since Iran was behind two horrific terror attacks in his country. He had credibility, as a major world leader. He had an audience, comprising most of his fellow heads of state.

Iran does care what certain parts of the world think — just not what Americans or American Jews think. In 2007, Iran gave away millions of dollars and signed billions in trade deals in a failed bid to keep Interpol from issuing “red notices” against five of its senior military and intelligence operatives for their role in the AMIA attack. Last April, Iranian voters watched Ahmadinejad be humiliated when European delegates walked out on his anti-Jewish rant at Durban II.

For all the valuable words spoken at rallies and printed in expensive newspaper ads, the actual impact of public Jewish advocacy on impeding the Iranian threat is negligible. Massive public campaigns by American Jews are important to the Jewish community — and to the U.S. government — but they will not persuade other governments to tighten the screws on Iran.

Jews certainly need to make their voices heard, but rallies have limited impact. Compared to the hundreds of thousands who recently marched in Iran against Ahmadinejad, 10,000 Jews in New York are at best a footnote to what everyone already knows: The Tehran regime is not legitimate, and it is a threat to regional and global peace.

Continue the rallies. That is how future leaders are forged, that is how politicians learn our priorities. That is how we teach our children about the importance of standing up against modern-day Pharaohs and dictators. But Jewish rallies will not stop Iran.

Iran watches every single diplomatic move in certain parts of the world. They send out their own people to do the convincing and secure their agenda. Jews must do the same in order to restrict and contain Iran. This means ensuring sufficient international pressure that the regime at last faces real consequences if it proceeds with its nuclear program. This means going government by government, and for this we won’t need cameras or microphones.

Shai Franklin is senior fellow for United Nations affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. Micah Halpern, a Middle East expert and terror analyst, is the author of “Thugs” (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

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