Several thousand demonstrators turned out for the rally against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad across from the United Nations.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped kick off Monday’s event, declaring: “We are all here today to send one clear, loud and united message that there is no place for hate and terror in this world, but there will always be a place for the great State of Israel.”
The rally at the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, which started at noon, is in conjunction with the start of the U.N. General Assembly. It was organized by an ad hoc coalition that included the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Israel and its allies are calling on the Justice Department to arrest Ahmadinejad during his visit in New York, saying he should be tried for inciting genocide. The rally and the calls for his arrest comes as Jewish groups wage a full-court press on the Iran issue in meetings planned with world leaders gathered for the yearly assembly.
“He is an international war criminal,” said Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz. “He has repeatedly violated the anti-genocide convention. He is as guilty as the Rwandans who are convicted and sentenced to years in prison for inciting genocide.”
In recent days, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, also has called for Ahmadinejad to be arrested and put on trial for incitement to genocide.
Ahmadenijad’s visit has been roiling New York for days. Columbia University stood by its decision to host Ahmadinejad for a speech on Monday, invoking the principle of free speech. Among those criticizing the invitation is the dean of Columbia Law School, David Schizer.
On Sunday, the Columbia/Barnard Hillel sponsored a daylong seminar to train Jewish students on how to respond to the Ahmadenijad visit. Staff from the Israel on Campus Coalition and the Hillel’s Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center wereamong those leading the sessions. The Columbia/Barnard Hillel also helped to form a campus coalition on campus to demonstrate at Columbia on Monday.
Also, an uproar over the Iranian president’s request to visit Ground Zero caused a swift reaction from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which condemned reports that the New York City Police Department intended to provide him with an honor escort.
Within hours, the department clarified that it had denied the request, an announcement duly welcomed by Jewish leaders.
“Iran is the most immediate and pressing issue,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive vice chairman.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York comes as a showdown looms in the Security Council over a third round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The United States is calling for harsher measures to pressure Iran, and on Friday it hosted a meeting of permanent members of the council and Germany in Washington to push for a new resolution.
Officials of the five permanent Security Council members and Germany said they will keep pursuing a “dual track” approach to Iran — trying to persuade it to abandon enrichment via negotiations while considering new sanctions.
France and Britain strongly back the push for more stringent sanctions. Russia, which holds a veto in the council, announced last week that it was opposed to further sanctions. China also is opposed to tougher measures.
Meanwhile, also last week, Iran announced it has drawn up plans for a retaliatory strike against Israel if it is attacked by the Jewish state.
Iran recently unveiled an upgraded version of its Shehab-3 long-range missile, which can be stationed anywhere in Iran and reach Israel, at a military parade in Tehran.
Dubbed “Fate” by Iranian officials, the new Shehab-3 has a range of 1,125 miles and is capable of carrying a non-conventional warhead. The previous missile had a range of 815 miles, which meant it could only threaten Israel if stationed in western Iran.
Barely a year ago, Jewish groups were urging the White House to tone down rhetoric linking its Iran policy with pledges to protect Israel because they feared that Jews would be blamed for any military action the United States might take.
Any such qualms seem to have evaporated, as Jewish groups and prominent Jewish figures have taken center stage in urging a tough line on Iran.
The Anti-Defamation Leage, whose leader last year summarized the Jewish message to Bush as “Thank you, but no thank you,” is now producing posters calling Iran a threat to Israel, the Jewish people, America and the world.
Israeli officials have noted that some of Iran’s ballistic missiles put parts of Europe within reach.
Hoenlein sought to emphasize that the world recognizes that Iran is not only a problem for Jews. The rally Monday would include delegations from Christian and Muslim groups, he said, including one from as far as Tennessee.
“This is not linked to the question of Israel,” Hoenlein said. “This is not Israel’s issue. It’s the world’s issue.”
Despite American obligations as the U.N. host country, Dershowitz said there is an exception in the case of war criminals.
“You can’t use the U.N. as a shield and a sword for genocide,” he said.
Dershowitz also said he does not expect authorities to make the arrest, but he feels pressure should be exerted in any case.
“We are told it’s not going to happen,” he said, “but nonetheless I believe we have to do the right thing.”