NEW YORK — The 61st convening of the United Nations General Assembly has been marked outside the U.N. building by pro-Israel rallies, and inside by a growing ideological rift between the United States and its opponents, with Israel caught in the middle.
President Bush used his speech Tuesday to the General Assembly to appeal to the people of Iran, telling them that their president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was wasting their resources to build nuclear weapons and support terrorism.
In response, Ahmadinejad sought to paint the United States as an imperialist aggressor that uses Israel as its proxy.
Jewish groups and others came out en masse Wednesday to protest against Ahmadinejad in a rally organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and other groups.
Some 35,000 people rallied across from the United Nations to protest Ahmadinejad’s presence at the world body. The crowd also wanted to show solidarity for Israel and implore the United Nations to enforce Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s war this summer with Hezbollah and calls for the release of three Israeli soldiers taken hostage by Hamas and Hezbollah.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, referred to Ahmadinejad’s Tuesday night speech to the General Assembly, in which he portrayed the creation of Israel as aggression against the Muslim world.
“He’s constantly lied and misrepresented the truth,” Hoenlein said, “and he comes and lectures the rest of the world?”
The rally drew dozens of speakers, including Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, New York Gov. George Pataki and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
“Shame on you for being the biggest Holocaust denier in the world,” Wiesel said of Ahmadinejad. “You bring shame to your culture and your nation.”
The United Nations, he added, also should be ashamed for giving Ahmadinejad a forum.
Dershowitz brought to the podium a copy of an indictment he said he was set to file against Ahmadinejad for trying to incite genocide against the Jews.
The rally also featured a healthy number of non-Jewish speakers and protesters. Kimberly Nucco and Sonya Davie, members of Christians United for Israel, came to the rally from Brooklyn. Both had been told in their church that it was imperative to support Israel.
It seemed clear, though, that the Jewish state was at the center of a power struggle as opponents of the United States paint Israel as an the pawn of U.S. imperialism.
Though he didn’t mention Israel by name in a speech laced with improbable appeals for more love and human rights, the Iranian president devoted much of his speech to criticizing the Jewish state.
He also called for the U.N. Security Council to be reformed so the United States would no longer be a permanent member with veto power. The United States abuses its veto power to achieve its imperialist goals and stifle the voice of the oppressed, Ahmadinejad argued.
“This is blatantly manifested in the way the elected government of Palestine is treated, as well as in the support extended to the Zionist regime,” Ahmadinejad said. “It does not matter if people are murdered in Palestine, turned into refugees, captured, imprisoned or besieged; that must not violate human rights.”
Ahmadinejad did not use the U.N. podium to deny the Holocaust, as he has done publicly in the past, but made clear that he feels the creation of Israel was an act of aggression.
Palestine “was placed under control of some of the war survivors, bringing even larger population groups from elsewhere in the world, who had not even been affected by the war … driving millions of the rightful inhabitants of the land into a diaspora and homelessness,” said Ahmadinejad, who in recent years has called repeatedly for Israel’s destruction. “This is a great tragedy with hardly a precedent in history … Can any member of the United Nations accept such a tragedy occurring in their own homeland?”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez picked up Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric Wednesday. Calling Bush the devil, he castigated the Security Council for, in his view, allowing Israel to destroy Lebanon and intentionally kill hundreds of civilians.
“The bombs in Beirut had micro-millimetric accuracy, and they are caught in the crossfire?” Chavez said. “It is genocidal.”
The real question, said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, is whether the voices of those gathered at the rally across from the United Nations will be heard by member nations, especially as Ahmadinejad tries to position himself as a champion of the oppressed.
The danger is that people in the developing world will start to look at Ahmadinejad as their spokesman, Harris said.
“The message from the rally could not be clearer,” he told JTA. “Whether it will be heard and heeded is another matter. The gap between the U.N. and the rally is much wider than First Avenue.”