After the Iran Rally: The Time for Action

Religious leaders around the country have found some common ground for protest. Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders in St. Louis, New York, Washington, D.C. and other major cities gathered last week for a series of protest rallies against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was scheduled to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. More than 200 protesters attended the St. Louis rally in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building last week.

Most impressive about the protest rally in St. Louis was the diversity of the participants: representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; Republican and Democratic officeholders from the local, state and federal levels; and audience members ranging from students to senior adults. All joined in one voice to strongly denounce the Iranian president for repeatedly calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map;” for hosting a conference in Tehran of Holocaust deniers; for calling the Holocaust a “myth;” and for defiling the U.N. — and the entire international community — by pressing forward with its program to enrich uranium towards developing nuclear weapons.


Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, recalled that former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan lamented the failure of the international community in 1994 to stop the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda by their fellow Rwandan Hutus, in what the United Nations officially called a “genocide” — albeit after the fact. The Rwandan genocide was carried out with machettes, Abramson-Goldstein noted, while Ahmadinejad seeks to develop nuclear weapons. She also pointed out that according to Irwin Cotler, former Justice Minister of Canada and a leading expert on international law, Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and his exhorting mobs in Tehran to join him in chanting “Death to Israel,” constitute an “incitement to genocide,” which in itself is defined as a war crime by the U.N. Convention Against Genocide.

Despite the protests around the country, Ahmadinejad’s speech went forward. Sadly, only scant attention was given to the protest rallies and their important and timely messages by both local and national media. The New York Times published a rather sarcastic piece by Clyde Haberman, which focused on the New York event sponsors initially inviting — and then disinviting — political figures to the protest.

“When Political Invitations Collide, Iranian Leader May Win,” read the lamentable headline in the Times, which missed the point of the rally. In addition, the paper failed to comment on the rally’s message on its prestigious and important Editorial Page — a major disappointment.

To add insult to injury, the Forward Jewish newspaper in New York reported, in a story by Marc Perelman, that five American Christian organizations organized a Sept. 25 dinner at which Ahmadinejad was the featured speaker. A coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish groups demonstrated to protest the dinner, which of course went on as planned. We wonder why any rational groups would host a dinner, invite the Iranian dictator, and give him the added honor of being the featured speaker.

Why should a “leader” who openly calls for the physical destruction of Israel be given the honor of delivering the feature address at a gathering of Christian leaders?

Now that the rallies are over and the Iranian president has come and gone from his annual trip to the U.N., we urge the strongest possible follow-up action.

We urge our representatives in the U.S. Senate and House, who were well-represented at the local rally, to demand that the Iranian President be put on the international Watch List of state-sponsored terrorist leaders. They must also demand that our representatives at the U.N. file the necessary papers to commence legal action against Ahmadinejad for the international war crime of “incitement to genocide.” Recently, the International Criminal Court in the Hague and the special International War Crimes Tribunal on Bosnia issued formal indictments of leaders in Sudan, Bosnia and Rwanda for their alleged war crimes, including incitement to genocide.

While rallies and interfaith support are helpful in a symbolic way, we must act NOW to make sure that appropriate legal action is taken at the appropriate international criminal justice courts to bring to justice the thug leader of Iran. The rally set the stage. Now let us take the immediate and necessary follow-up actions to put a stop to the Iranian regime’s murderous rants and incitements to genocide. History has taught us that silence and inaction are no longer options.

Let us move forward now!