NEW YORK (JTA) — Several thousand people rallied in New York City for freedom in Iran in a demonstration put together by Jewish groups and numerous other organizations.
The demonstration Thursday outside the United Nations building came a day after Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed the U.N. General Assembly.
Speakers at the rally included New York Gov. David Paterson, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and former New York City mayor and one-time Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.
“The current Iranian regime is an affront to the civilized world,” Giuliani said. “It’s a disgrace and, of course, it’s a terrible menace not only to its own citizens but a terrible menace to all of us. All decent people should stand up against the Iranian regime."
A coalition of Jewish groups and numerous other organizations, including the Progressive Iranian-American Council, labor unions, and African-American and Hispanic groups, organized the protest.
Meanwhile, at a rally in Washington, about 300 people chanted “Yes we can stop Iran” and carried signs stating "Stop Iran’s Nukes Now." Billed as the Stand for Freedom from Iranian Threats rally, the event was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
“We stand here today united, calling for freedom,” said the JCRC’s executive director, Ron Halber. “Freedom from the threat of Iranian nukes. Freedom from the threat of Iranian terrorism. Freedom from the threat of Iranian human rights abuse.”
A number of Iranian exiles attended the New York event, including Sivash Abaghari, an Iranian-born professor of finance who flew in from Atlanta to participate.
Abaghari said the number of Iranian exiles in the crowd Thursday grew considerably compared to previous years. He attributed the growth to the Iranian government’s oppression of the opposition.
“This year I see hundreds of Iranian protesters, a lot more than I imagined,” Abaghari said. “Last year there were Iranian Jews, but this year there are many Muslims, too.”
Roozbah Farahanipour, an Iranian opponent of the regime who fled the country in 1999 after being tortured in jail, also attended the New York rally. Earlier this year, Farahanipour said he snuck back into Iran to demonstrate against the declaration of Ahmadinejad as the winner of the presidential election, which he called rigged.
“I passed the border through the mountains from Turkey,” the 37-year-old said. “It was the first time I had been back in 10 years. It was emotional and dangerous, but I had an agenda: freedom.”
After a week in Iran, Farahanipour said he fled the country following a crackdown on the opposition by authorities. He said many of his friends and colleagues back home were still in jail. He called on the international community to be more vocal in its support of human rights in Iran.
“When I was in jail in 1999 I said to myself, where is the international community?” he asked. “Now I feel the same.”
The rally followed a protest Wednesday by Iranian opponents of the regime in Tehran. Also on Wednesday, a group of rabbis protested against Ahmadinejad, with a handful getting arrested, including Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, N.Y.
Among the speakers in Washington on Thursday was Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who called for “hard sanctions” on Iran and said that “we need to support young Iranians” who “stand up for freedom.”
“The Iranian people and the Israeli people are both victims of terrorism,” said Fakhravar, secretary-general of the Confederation of Iranian Students.
Also speaking in Washington were U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbi Steve Gutow; and local community and government leaders.
Many Jewish leaders at the New York event said they believed the Obama administration should be vocal in its opposition to the Tehran regime. President Obama has sought dialogue in a bid to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, but has threatened harsher sanctions if the Islamic Republic does not acquiesce.
“I commend the president for starting with the carrot, but I think it’s time to start with the stick,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
(JTA staff writer Eric Fingerhut contributed to this report from Washington.)