Op-Ed: Protesting Against Iran - There is a Precedent
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
On 26 October 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran issued a genocidal call for the elimination of Israel at the “World without Zionism” conference in Teheran. Other speakers were terrorist leaders Hassan Nasrallah of Hizballah and Khaled Mash’al of Hamas.
Ahmadinejad’s murderous statements prompted many condemnations, inter alia from the U.N. Security Council and the European Union. One of the West’s strongest reactions was in Rome where on 3 November, a torchlight march was held near the Iranian Embassy.
Giuliano Ferrara, a former communist, is the editor of the conservative daily Il Foglio, which he founded in 1996. He took the initiative for this march which was unique in the world.
Ferrara recounts: “I felt it a political, cultural, and civil duty to organize a protest against Ahmadinejad’s call for genocide. I wanted this demonstration to have a simple goal: to proclaim that we uphold Israel’s right to exist and object to a head of state who denies this. An estimated 15,000-20,000 people took part in the demonstration, among them Cabinet Minister Roberto Calderoli who said he represented both the government and his Lega Nord party.
“The demonstration was a great political success: it went beyond a gathering of about twenty thousand people who were determined to affirm their principles. Among those who marched or supported the demonstration, almost the entire Italian political spectrum was represented, from the Center-Right to the Center-Left. The Rifondazione Communist party was the only one with a parliamentary faction that did not participate. Like other forces of the extreme Left, their prejudice is to support the national struggle of the Palestinians and their ideology tends toward anti-Zionism.
“We succeeded in holding the demonstration one week after Ahmadinejad’s initial anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist declarations. Our support went far beyond political parties. Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest daily came out in favor of the demonstration along with many other papers. Repubblica, the second largest daily treated the rally benevolently, which was the maximum one could expect. The communist daily Il Manifesto opposed the demonstration, but some of its journalists marched nevertheless. Numerous associations also came out in support and so did various other bodies of Italian civil society, from the Catholic sector and elsewhere. Many intellectuals and public personalities also expressed their backing.
“Also important is that this was the first major demonstration of Europeans before the embassy of a Muslim country. We marched as close to it as we were allowed by the authorities. I called it a ‘hybrid torchlight march’ because people and groups with very diverse views were present. But they showed unity in upholding Israel’s right to exist.
“The strong underlying message of the march against Ahmadinejad was that Israel had defended its existence with its own forces. Even for the Italian Left, this holds a great fascination which is undeniable after all these years.
“The demonstration in favor of Israel was only possible because on two previous occasions I had taken similar initiatives. The first time we organized a public demonstration was on 10 November 2001, less than two months after the attacks by Bin Laden’s followers. We decided to organize a demonstration called ‘USA Day’ to show solidarity with the United States after 9-11. Italy’s then newly elected prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, spoke in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton sent a message as well, speaking on CNN.
“On 15 April 2002, we organized a second even more important demonstration called ‘Israel Day.’ A year before the attack on the Twin Towers, the Palestinians had launched the Second Intifada with its murderous suicide bombings. The Israeli government reacted by suppressing terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza.
“In those days it was not easy to organize a pro-Israel demonstration, but we decided we had to do it. This event was again a great success, gaining the support of personalities from both the Right and the Left. The prime minister of the present left-wing Italian government, Romano Prodi, then-president of the European Commission, expressed his empathy. Among backers on the Right was Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, leader of the Alleanza Nazionale party.
“On Israel Day there was a massive show of Israeli flags. People gathered on the square of the Capitol and descended the steps. It was a huge, beautiful procession. We marched to the synagogues on the Tiber River, where the participants deposited small stones. There was a short speech. I must stress that all these demonstrations have been organized with little money by a small newspaper.
“The success of the first two demonstrations helped me decide that a similar one was necessary against Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic campaign. We had to express our indignation toward the Iranian president and his political madness intelligently. Besides the Israeli flags, there were also Italian and Iranian ones. A group of Iranians in exile also took part in the protest. One of their slogans in Persian was, ‘Zendebab Israel’—wishing Israel to live.”
Why isn't this happening today?