Local Iran rally protests Ahmadinejad’s UN talk

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

A crowd of more than 200, including local religious leaders and representatives of elected officials, filled the Staenberg Atrium of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building for the Freedom in Iran Rally last Thursday, Sept. 24. The St. Louis group joined dozens of rallies around the nation, one day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Gerald P. Greiman, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, welcomed those in attendance, and thanked the large and diverse audience, which included students at local day schools, older adults, members of local synagogues and organizations and members of other religious communities. JCRC organized the rally, in cooperation with other Jewish groups.

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Greiman said the rally was called to speak out against human rights abuses in Iran, an end to the country’s “incitement to genocide,” support for terrorism and to call for the country’s full compliance with the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) and the U.N. Security Council.

“We all have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with those whose rights are restricted and ignored,” he said. “The more we stand up, the more likely our voices will help shape the debate on Iran and encourage international leaders to persuade Tehran to abandon its abusive policies.”

Greiman noted that a local delegation from the Jewish community, led by Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, recently went to Washington to meet with Missouri senators and representatives in Congress, all of whom — Democrat and Republican — are united on the issue of pressuring Iran to abandon its program to develop nuclear weapons, and the Holocaust denial and genocidal threats of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, Emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth and chair of JCRC’s Community Iran Response Committee, said he hoped the rally would “voice solidarity with the Iranian people as they seek freedom and human rights” and “underscore the urgency” of the world to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

“We have a requirement to stand up for what we believe. Don’t stand idly by the blood of your fellow. Silence has allowed atrocities to occur through the generations, and it is our obligation to respond,” Stiffman said.

“Iran’s determination to produced nuclear weapons is not a regional problem, it is a vital security problem for the world community and the most pressing issue of our time,” he continued.

Nancy Lisker, director of the St. Louis Chapter of American Jewish Committee, noted that the rally was part of a national effort.

“Today, at this very moment, Americans across this nation, are demonstrating from New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco,” she said, “in repudiation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the United Nations and in defense of those his regime has oppressed for so long: political opponents, women, religious minorities and homosexuals.”

Lisker added that the International Atomic Energy Agency “has expressed grave concern over Iran’s nuclear program and its refusal to allow inspectors. The IAEA has already found enough enriched uranium in Iran to provide, upon further enrichment, the fissile material for Iran’s first bomb. We’re gathered here today to let the world know not now, not ever. We will not tolerate a nuclear Iran.”

Daniel Iken, a senior at Clayton High School and co-chair of JCRC’s Israel Teen Advocacy Group and a member of the steering committee of the JCRC’s Student-to-Student program, said, “As a student I have learned about the history of conflicts and genocides. And my family’s history has taught me about the evils of persecution. Seeing the recent events unfolding in Iran, I feel a personal responsibility to speak out.

“I am deeply concerned about the human rights issues in Iran. I am disgusted by the words of President Ahmadinejad when he denies the Holocaust and calls for the destruction of Israel,” he continued. “I am horrified by photos and videos of soldiers firing at protestors this summer as they spoke out against President Ahmadinejad, and reports that people were imprisoned for speaking out against their government.

“I hope that in my lifetime Iran will become a country where one can speak out against the government if one so chooses without worrying about being beaten, shot or imprisoned. I hope Iran will become a place that respects the rights of all people and all faiths.”

Other speakers at the rally included Mike Dubois, senior legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Christopher (Kit) Bond. Dubois described the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced by Bond with the co-sponsorship of Senators Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Joe Lieberman, D-IN, Conn., which would empower President Barack Obama to impose additional sanctions on the government of Iran if it refuses to comply with the demands of the international community to cease its nuclear weapons development program.

Jules and Joan Stiber, active members of Traditional Congregation, said they wanted to attend the rally to show solidarity with Israel. “Iran’s President has threatened to destroy Israel, and I feel it is important for the community to stand with Israel when it is threatened,” said Joan Stiber. Added her husband: “Iran is a real danger to Israel and the Middle East. Not enough is being done to prevent the regime from getting nuclear weapons.”

Irl Solomon, a retired East St. Louis public school teacher who volunteers as a docent at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum said, “Working every week at the Holocaust Museum I can see daily the extent of Ahmadinejad’s crime of Holocaust denial. The broad-based group of speakers and attendees are evidence that the entire community is united against the human rights abuses, Holocaust denial and threats of a nuclear Iran.”

Interfaith speakers at rally

Safa Alai, a member of the local Baha’i faith community, was one of several interfaith speakers at Thursday’s rally. Alai addressed the audience about Iran’s severe persecution of Baha’is in his native Iran.

“Before the elections in Iran, a friend in Iran sent me an email so hopeful that he felt there was a real chance for a just society. Even at that time, I just knew it would come to pass. Back in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution took place, Iran instituted harsh anti-Baha’i policies, which are now directed at any Iranians who are protesting the elections. I am an engineer. I left Iran in 1979. My father had shown me a photograph of 30 of his friends, all gone, all executed.”

Alai added that among those recently killed in Iran was a “beautiful Baha’i woman, who was shot to death. The Baha’i faith, founded 106 years ago, and which has six million followers around the world, believes that we are all part of humanity. The founder of our faith said that we regard the world as a whole human body, and if one part of it is injured, then all of us are injured.”

Amir Karadzic, director of the Union of Citizens of the (Bosnian) Municipality of Prijedor, which represents the large and mostly Muslim Bosnians in St. Louis, also spoke and noted that members of his community suffered from the genocide in the former Yugoslavia.

“We want to speak out against any leaders who attack minorities. We have a big concern when a leader of any country denies the Holocaust, and disregards United Nations resolutions and seeks nuclear weapons,” he said. “The same leader of Iran wants to wipe another nation off the face of the planet. This must be stopped. We must all work together to stop this.

“Thanks to the support from the United States and its European allies the violence in Bosnia, which killed over 200,000 innocent civilians was stopped. We in the Bosnian community want to give you a sense of solidarity with the Jewish community and we hope that the abuses in Iran can be stopped.”

CAPTION: Around 200 people attended the JCRC’s “Freedom in Iran” rally on Sept. 24 in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building. Photo: Lisa Mandel