Rally protests UN welcome for Iran president

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

Leaders from across the spectrum of the Jewish, interfaith and elected leadership of Greater St. Louis, joined in force on Monday for a “Rally Against Incitement to Genocide,” to protest the appearance and scheduled speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the United Nations.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” has called the Holocast a “myth,” and his regime continues to work towards development of nuclear weapons despite the objections of the international community.

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Over 200 people, including rabbis, ministers and other clergy from many faiths, office holders or their representatives and candidates for various state offices gathered in the Staenberg Family Atrium of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building to express outrage at the

official invitation to Ahmadinejad to address the U.N. as Iran’s head of state. Protesters noted that the Iranian president has made repeated remarks in speeches calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, and exhorting crowds in Tehran to follow his chant of “Death to Israel!”

Speakers at the rally pointed out that Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for the destruction of a fellow member state in the United Nations violates both the United Nations Charter and its Genocide Convention which bans not only genocide itself, but “incitement to genocide.”

Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, and of its Iran Strategy Committee, presided at the Rally, which was sponsored by the JCRC, and co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri/Southern Illinois, the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah and the Jewish Community Center, with the support of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

“Today, we gather to express our outrage over the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations,” Rabbi Stiffman said. “A man who openly and frequently calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, denies the Holocaust and defies international law should not be given a platform at the United Nations.”

“Ahmadinejad’s virulent hate mongering and incitement to genocide is an affront to all Americans. It reminds us of the hatred that helped launch the genocides of the 20th century in Nazi Germany, Bosnia and Rwanda. This incitement to genocide is a concern to our Jewish communithy and to all St. Louisans.”

Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, said he considers the prevention of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel to be the “number one priority of the Jewish people.”

“I admit,” Rosenberg went on, “the thought of the Israeli people being wiped out –pushed into the sea — the genocide of the Israeli population — is so unimaginable, so unfathomable, that my tendency is to discount the possibility, to assume that something will work out. But when the President of Iran says he will wipe Israel off the map, when that president’s statements get the full backing of the religious leadership of Iran, the ultimate political authorities, and when that nation relentlessly seeks nuclear capability in violation of world opinion and UN resolutions…Well then we would be fools not to believe them.”

Rosenberg added, “the threat of a nuclear Iran is not just a Jewish problem. A nuclear Iran is a threat to moderate Muslim and Arab nations. It is a threat to the United States. Israel is just the first step on a global crusade.”

He pointed out that while the rally in St. Louis was being held, similar gatherings were being held in New York City and Washington, D.C. “The American Coalition Against a Nuclear Iran — led by distinguished Americans such as James Woolsey, Richard Holbrook and Dennis Ross — seeks to mobilize the political, diplomatic and economic pressure that we hope and pray will lead Iran to forego its nuclear ambitions.”

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive vice president of the JCRC spoke after a brief video clip showing Ahmadinejad exhorting a rally of supporters in Tehran, chanting, “Death to Israel!” repeatdly.

“Over the past several years, Iranian leaders, most prominently President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have made numerous statements like the chilling one you just heard, calling for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. While certain experts have interpreted these statements to be simply expressions of disastisfaction with the current Israeli government and its policies, in reality, the intent behind Ahmadinejad’s language and that of others is clear…What emerges from a comprehensive analysis of what he and other Iranian leaders have actually said and how it has been interpreted in Iran itself, is that the call is not, as apologists have said, for ‘regime change’ in Jerusalem. Rather it calls for the actual physical destruction of the State of Israel — as you have heard –‘Death to Israel.'”

Abramson-Goldstein quoted former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s remarks over the failure of the international community to act in time to stop the genocide in Rwanda, when over 800,000 Tutsis were murdered with machettes by their Hutu fellow citizens. “We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenseless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda…Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life,” Annan said.

“The response to Annan’s plaintive question, what can be done, what must be done, is for the international community to respond appropriately to the early warning signs of genocide emanating from Tehran,” Abramson-Goldstein said.

“Historically, the response only begins when the tragedy is over. Sadly, the historical record shows that the international community has never before prosecuted incitement until after thousands or millions were killed.”

Attendees at the rally were urged to sign petitions to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing “outrage and alarm” at the repeated threats of genocide emanating from the government of Iran and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Copies of the petition were also distributed at the rallies in New York and Washington and were sent to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Rice and members of the U.S. Congress.

Other speakers on the program included Alem Hadzic of the United Bosnian Organization; Steve Engelhardt, communications director for Rep. William Lacy Clay, who spoke on Rep. Clay’s behalf in support of the rally and its objectives; Rev. Rudy Pulido, Senior Pastor of the Southwest Baptist Church and Jay Umansky, president of the St. Louis Region of the American Jewish Congress.

Hadzic said that the statements by Iran’s president are similar to those of the “Butcher of Bosnia,” who incited the genocide in a nation which had 600 years of ethnic and religious harmony. Engelhardt said that Congressman Clay condemns the “outrageus” statements and actions of Iran’s president and government and “fully supports” the objectives of the rally. Rev. Pulido expressed the “deep concern and solidarity” of the Christian community over the threats to the “land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and our Prophet, Jesus.”

Jay Umansky said that the American Jewish Congress, along with the other sponsoring organizations were pleased to join in a cooperative effort to meet the threats posed by the president and regime in Iran. “Western leaders recognize that a nuclear Iran poses a grave danger to the entire world,” Umansky said. “Over 20 percent of the world’s oil supply passes through the Strait of Hormuz, over which a nuclear Iran would exercise unchallenged control…Ahmadinejad and his government represents the world’s only openly jihadist power. An increase in Iran’s prestige, through the granting of a forum before the United Nations can only bolster the forces of incitement worldwide.”

Umansky urged those in attendance to “stay informed; most of the Web sites of the sponsoring organizations contain updates on the situation in Iran and the Middle East….In this time of reflection before the Jewish New Year, it is incumbent upon us, Jew, Christian and Muslim alike. We know through our friendships, that the universal ethical calling of justice annot be readily answered if we live only among ourselves. We have learned that we can no longer act as if what happens in our immediate comunities is all that matters. We must act to show solidarity to others beyond our communities, in order to better appreciate the unversality of human dignity…Working together, through our community organizations, we can speak out and help to bring change at this critical time. L’Shanah Tovah.”