Iran's Ahmadinejad at the UN, 2007
Iran's Ahmadinejad at the UN, 2007photo: file

Over one thousand people, including Israeli VIPs, protested on Monday afternoon against the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York City. He is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly's opening session on Tuesday. A second anti-Ahmadinejad rally has been called for Thursday to protest a religious dialogue dinner the Iranian president has been invited to attend.

There was a large contingent of local high school students and Iranian expatriates.

Monday's protest at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was organized and attended by a coalition of Jewish organizations brought together to condemn Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and his threats to perpetrate a new one by "wiping Israel from the map." The Iranian government has thus far thwarted efforts to prevent it from acquiring the nuclear weapons it is seeking, which Iranian leaders have warned could be used to destroy Israel.

In addition to members and supporters of the Jewish groups behind the rally, there was a large contingent of local high school students and Iranian expatriates, the latter carrying large signs with pictures of political prisoners held, tortured and executed by the Iranian regime. Demonstrators waved Israeli and American flags, chanted "Stop Iran Now" and held signs with messages that included "No Nuclear Iran", "Zero Tolerance for Islamofascists" and "Bomb Bushehr".

Among the high-profile participants were Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, former Soviet prisoner and Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, and Nobel prize-winning author Elie Wiesel.

Instead of attending the opening ceremony at the United Nations, Ahmadinejad should be on trial in an international courtroom for "propagating genocidal policies," Wiesel said. "He's not Hitler - nobody is Hitler," added the noted Holocaust survivor, "but he wishes to follow in Hitler's footsteps and that makes him an arch-criminal."

Wiesel urged world leaders to leave the General Assembly hall when Ahmadinejad speaks on Tuesday. "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is a threat to world peace.... Our message to him is 'go home, go home and stay there,' " said Wiesel.

Other speakers at the protest echoed Wiesel's remarks and said Ahmadinejad should be shunned by the international community.

Ahmadinejad Invited to 'Religious Dialogue'

Undermining the efforts of anti-Ahmadinejad forces to isolate the Iranian ruler, a coalition of American Christian organizations has invited Ahmadinejad to be the featured guest at a dinner billed as a religious dialogue. The event - put together by the American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quaker UN Office, Religions for Peace, and the World Council of Churches - is slated to take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Thursday night. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, is expected to take part in the dinner as well.

A coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish groups is planning to greet the dinner meeting with another demonstration against the Iranian president. Among the groups behind the September 25th protest are the Jewish Action Alliance, Stand With Us, the Israel Project, Americans for a Safe Israel, the Center for Security Policy, the Catholic League, Rabbi Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis, the Traditional Values Coalition and the Alliance of Iranian Women.

"These religious leaders are about to betray their brethren across all religions, parties and countries by honoring the tyrannical regime of Ahmadinejad and the Iranian mullahs of this terrorist state," protest organizers said.

Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been invited to speak at the interfaith rally, along with other politicians.

The dinner honoring Ahmadinejad prompted the American Jewish Committee to send a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon protesting Brockmann's planned attendance. The AJC noted that Ahmadinejad has violated the U.N. Charter by calling for the elimination of a U.N. member state, Israel, as well as contradicting a General Assembly resolution against denying the Holocaust.

The president of the U.N. General Assembly... is expected to take part in the dinner.

Tehran Highlights the Fringe

The Iranian government-controlled English-language newspaper Tehran Times mentioned the protests, but highlighted a statement by the tiny Jewish fringe organization, Neturei Karta, warmly greeting Ahmadinejad.

"It has been our honor and privilege to meet with President Ahmadinejad.... We have found the Iranian President to be a deeply religious man, dedicated to a peaceful world, based on mutual respect, fairness and dialogue. Out of great respect to the Iranian Nation and their leadership we proudly welcome the Honorable President Ahmadinejad to New York, WELCOME!" read the statement by Neturei Karta leader Yisroel Dovid Weiss.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch organization held a briefing on Ahmadinejad's Iran at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel on Monday. The HRW panel charged that Iran regularly carries out practices that violate internationally recognized human rights. Specifically cited were the execution of juveniles accused of crimes and the imprisonment of peaceful dissidents.