Throngs of people descended on the UN Thursday to protest the Iranian president’s anti-Israel diatribe at the General Assembly and to stand in opposition to human rights violations in Iran following the usurped June election.
Waving signs that declared “No Nuclear Iran” and “Ahmadinejad not wanted here,” they filed into Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at noon to denounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, just as other demonstrations were to take place in other US cities.
At New York’s “Stand For Freedom in Iran” demonstration – organized by the Jewish community in conjunction with labor groups and others – shouts of “Stop Iran Now” were punctuated by three shofar blasts, meant to summon world leaders to act against the Iranian nuclear threat.
On stage, four volunteers stood with tape across their mouths and carrying signs that read: “I’m gay and in Iran I’m killed” and “I’m a woman and in Iran I’m stoned.”
Protesters held clusters of green balloons and waved Iranian flags in solidarity with the opposition movement there.
Mansour Etehid, an Iranian Jew who traveled to New York from his home in California summed up in two words his reason for attending the rally.
“For freedom,” he said.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel pleaded with the international community to charge Ahmadinejad with crimes against humanity and try him at The Hague.
“This is a solemn appeal to the leaders of the world,” Wiesel said. “His presence anywhere is an insult to what is sacred in democracy… He is an enemy of humanity.”
In the crowd, protester Mark Goret said: “He’s dangerous, he’s evil and if he gets the [nuclear] weapon, he’ll use it.”
“Ahmadinejad has said multiple times he wants Israel wiped off the map,” said Jaime Lynn, a volunteer with the evangelical group, Christians United for Israel. “I’m here to stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters to let them know that we’re standing with them in their plight.”
Although demonstrators were largely Jewish, organizers included a broad coalition of groups, including the Jewish Community Relations Council, synagogue groups, churches and local chapters of the NAACP civil rights organization and the AFL-CIO labor federation. Among those in attendance were New York Governor David Paterson and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Iranian activists also joined the rally, including Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir, who told the crowd: “Ahmadinejad and other faces of [the] Islamic regime are not just an internal issue. This is about terrorism, nuclear weapons and human rights abuses.”
“He is not my president,” declared an Iranian woman, Roya Teimouri, making her 15th annual visit to protest the Teheran regime at the UN General Assembly.
She said she was warned by Muslim Iranians against appearing at a Jewish rally, but that “human rights has no borderline. They stood up for us,” she said, referring to the Jewish community.
“I am Iranian and not Jew, but you don’t have to be a Jew to feel the Holocaust,” she said, in a voice hoarse from participating in another protest a day earlier. “They’re killing my people like Hitler killed the Jews.”
Hundreds of Iranian Americans also gathered on Wednesday to protest Ahmadinejad’s fraud in June’s presidential election.
Amid a sea of green-clad demonstrators, nearly a dozen rabbis clad in prayer shawls were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after they blocked traffic near the UN. The rabbis were released after being issued summonses, according to media reports.
On Wednesday night, Ahmadinejad declared his June reelection “glorious” and “fully democratic,” in a fiery speech that targeted Israel as a “Zionist regime” guilty of “inhumane policies in Palestine.”
Through a translator, he likened actions by Israel in Gaza to “genocide,” and said the international community “is impatiently waiting for the punishment of the aggressors and the murderers of the defenseless people of Gaza.”
Ahmadinejad portrayed Israel and its allies – including the United States – as part of a vast conspiracy.
“It is no longer acceptable that a small minority would dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks, and establish a new form of slavery, and harm the reputation of other nations, even European nations and the US, to attain its racist ambitions,” he said.
As promised beforehand, a dozen delegations walked out of the auditorium as Ahmadinejad began to target Israel. The delegations from the US, France, Britain, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy and New Zealand left the room during the speech.
Canada boycotted the speech altogether, as did Israel, which earlier called on world leaders to boycott the address in protest of Ahmadinejad’s repeated denial of the Holocaust and vitriol against Israel.
“It is disappointing that Mr. Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” Mark Kornblau, spokesman to the US mission to the United Nations, said in a statement.
Jewish groups immediately rejected the diatribe against Israel.
“The UN has been soiled by Ahmadinejad’s grotesque anti-Semitic diatribes,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
Calling him a “liar” and a “dictator,” Harris said Ahmadinejad’s intention to acquire nuclear weapons posed a threat.
He called on the international community to stop “treating Ahmadinejad as a statesman,” and to recognize him for “the dangerous thug he is.”