A broad-based coalition of Jewish and Christian groups, labor unions, Iranian exiles, black pastors and community leaders called on President Barack Obama and the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions on Iran to prevent the Tehran regime from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
The second day of protests against the New York visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reached across the traditional political divides in impressive fashion, with New York’s Democrat Gov. David Patterson, joining forces with the likely Republican nominee for the same job, former New York Mayor (and presidential candidate) Rudy Giuliani.
“We don’t agree on everything,” said Janice W. Shorenstein, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. “But we all agree on this: that the people of Iran deserve human dignity . . . and the right to assemble peacefully . . . The stand-by-Iran coalition will not be silenced.”
Patterson made an impassioned plea for U.S. support for Israel against the threats and weaponry of Iran’s leaders, while Giuliani called the current Iranian regime “an affront to the civilized world.”
The Iranian regime “is not only a menace to its own citizens, but is a terrible menace to all of us. All decent people should stand up against the Iranian regime,” Giuliani added.
Liberal Jewish leaders found common ground with conservatives in their harsh criticism of the United Nations for inviting Ahmadinejad — “the world’s biggest bigot,” according to one participant — to speak at the annual U.N .General Assembly in New York.
“We need to thank the NYPD not for protecting the U.N. from us, but for protecting us from the U.N.,” said Rabbi Joe Patasik of the New York Board of Rabbis.
“We hear much about healthcare. What happened to the U.N. human care? The U.N. charter talks about caring for all people, all nations. I suggest that the letters U.N. are only the beginning of the name of that body. It’s uncivilized, it’s unforgiveable, it’s unacceptable. And therefore, after allowing [Ahmadinejad’s speech], they should be unseated.”
The crowd, which the NYPD variously estimated at between 5,500 to 10,000, loved it. Many held signs supporting workers’ rights and representing teachers unions, groups normally advocating that the U.S. work with and pay deference to the U.N.
Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel made an appearance, with a surprisingly tepid call to haul Ahmadinejad before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli expressed the common thread uniting all these diverse groups.
“We don’t want Iran to become a nuclear power. We’re going to take every step to prevent that. . . . That’s why we were one of the first states to do divestment of our holdings” in companies doing business in Iran.
Under his direction, and with political support from the New York Assembly, DiNapoli divested $86 million of the state’s retirement funds from companies doing business in Iran.
Earlier this week, facing pressure from the United Against a Nuclear Iran Coalition, General Electric announced it would halt all business in Iran, except for humanitarian (medical) equipment that is allowed under current sanctions regimes.
The U.S.-based multinational had been providing power plant and oil field technology to Iran, much of it as a subcontractor to European companies. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt told CNBC last year that the group ceased signing new contracts in Iran in 2005 but would fulfill existing orders.
“All of those who do business in Iran had better learn to put principle and security before profits,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations.
He saluted the GE’s decision and that of the Helmsley Hotel and Gotham Hall to turn down requests by the Iranian mission in New York to host the Iranian president during their New York stay.
“The United States may be required to let him in, but there’s no requirement to let him hold lavish dinners or stay in posh suites. Let him sleep on a park bench,” Hoenlein said.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who has authored a new book on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, told the crowd that Iran’s progress in making nuclear weapons had reached “five minutes before midnight.”
He warned of those in the West who are trying to “put you to sleep” with arguments that a nuclear Iran would be no different than India or Pakistan or North Korea, all of which have exploded nuclear weapons and not changed much in world affairs.
The U.S. was able to “set an example” against the Taliban in Afghanistan for providing safe haven to al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks because they had no nuclear capability.
“Now fast-forward to 2011 or 2012,” Gold said. “ If we make a mistake today and Iran gets nuclear weapons and Hezbollah — which is the al-Qaida of the Shiites — attacks in New York, in Washington, or in London, can you respond against a nuclear Iran the way you responded against the Taliban in 2001?”
“A nuclear Iran would mean that “the balance of forces in the world will work for the benefit of international Islamic terrorism in a way that you’ve never seen,” Gold said.
While Thursday’s rally was long on speeches and pledges of congressional action to enact new sanctions legislation, the elephant in the packed plaza across from the United Nations was President Barack Obama and his ongoing effort to “reach out” to Iran’s current leaders.
“Obama’s gestures have been correct, but they have been met by inaction and more of the same,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “He offered them a carrot. Now it’s time for the stick. Iran can be influenced by meaningful and tough sanctions. We look to Obama and to the U.N. Security Council to make it happen.”
None of the American leaders who spoke on Thursday were willing to criticize Obama publicly. But many were critical in private, and were deeply worried that Obama was allowing the Iranian regime to “run out the clock” through fruitless negotiations while it finalized its nuclear weapons program.
Iranian women’s activist Roya Teimouri came the closest to giving vent to this underlying fear of Alice in Wonderland politics in New York and Washington.
“I have a message for President Obama and for Ban Ki Moon,” she said, referring to the U.N. secretary general. “Wake up and smell the blood.”
As if to emphasize her message, three New York rabbis blew the shofar — the ritual horn used primarily on the Jewish new year and Yom Kippur — saying it was “to wake up leaders around the world” to the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Many of the demonstrators had come bearing a similar message. Luz Garcia, a 36-year old Venezuelan woman who fled her homeland five years ago and now lives in Miami, came to New York to protest “the insanity” of the United Nations welcoming leaders such as Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez.
She held up a sign that read, “Can Iran launch a nuclear missile from Venezuela?” A friend who had flown up with her from Florida carried a similar sign. “How many Iranian centrifuges are spinning in Venezuela?”
Read U.S. May Face 9/11-Scale Threat from Venezuela
Retiree Ira Nosenchuk, of Brooklyn, held up signs with harsh messages for Obama.
“Mr. Obama: Stop Bullying Israel,” one read. “Mr. Obama: Stop Appeasing Terrorists,” read another.
“This is all talk,” he said, referring to the speeches booming across the plaza, “while Ahmadinejad is making nukes.”
But Michael Bobrow, 76, a self-professed conservative and reader of Newsmax, said he was “pleased” that Obama was reaching out to Iran and Russia. “I support him on what he’s doing in the Middle East and Russia, even if I oppose him on healthcare and other things,” he said.
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