Students take a stand; rally against Iranian president


Palin fallout; disappointment at lack of participation

By Yaffi Spodek

Issue of Sept. 26, 2008
Thousands gathered across from the United Nations Monday to protest the arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly the following day. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was filled with a diverse crowd of activists and protesters, among them several hundred students from local yeshiva high schools, including Machon HaTorah and the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. Several American and Israeli dignitaries addressed the cheering crowd, delivering rousing speeches and inspiring the audience to break into chants of “stop Iran now,” referring to the Iranian dictator’s development of nuclear weapons and his proclaimed desire to wipe Israel off the map. Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) delivered powerful opening remarks. “We believe that evil must be confronted,” he asserted. “The clock is ticking and we cannot be complacent...Wickedness must be defeated.” Dalia Itsik, speaker of the Israeli Knesset, later echoed his message. “The free world cannot allow Iran to sponsor terrorism,” she declared. “The free world must not allow the threat of destruction like this without taking proper action to stop him.” “These weapons will not only threaten Israel, they will threaten Riyadh, Paris, London and New York,” Itsik continued, urging world leaders not to be silent as they were during the Holocaust. “Enough is enough.” Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel called on Ahmadinejad to “go home and stay there” and likened him to Hitler, describing him as a dictator who violates all standards of decency. He also urged U.N. delegates to leave the hall during Ahmadinejad’s address to the general assembly. “He must be declared a persona non-grata everywhere,” Wiesel said, calling him a “threat to world peace.” He accused Ahmadinejad of propagating genocide against the people of Iran and of helping Hezbollah fund terrorist activities and called for him to be indicted by an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Others speakers included Natan Sharansky, Israel’s former Deputy Prime Minister, and former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, as well as a host of other Rabbis and community leaders. “It’s a great thing to have Jews unite and voice our concerns about causes that are important to the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Machon HaTorah. “We make a point at Rambam, HAFTR and Shalhevet of preparing the kids so that they know what the issues are about.” The senior classes at HAFTR and Rambam all attended, as did the inaugural freshman class of Shalhevet, with the three delegations totaling close to 180 students. “The Shalhevet girls in particular were extremely passionate about the cause,” Rabbi Friedman noted. “It was heartening to see that the girls really had the sense of mission and the passion and were really into it at the front of the Assembly at 2nd Ave.” But the same could not be said for the majority of the student participants, some of whom travelled from as far away as Toronto, Canada and Miami, Florida. Rabbi Friedman expressed his dismay at the overall turnout and the lack of focus of those participating. “What I found disappointing at Monday’s rally was a lack of focus among many of the student participants, with the vast majority of them socializing,” he explained. “Also disappointing was the fact that the crowd was largely comprised of students and adults were noticeably absent.” The rally was sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the JCRC, the UJA Federation of New York, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the United Jewish Communities. Though it was originally supposed to feature New York Senator Hillary Clinton as a keynote speaker, she abruptly canceled her appearance after learning that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, had also been invited. Organizers then rescinded Palin’s invitation and disinvited other politicians who were scheduled to speak, saying they did not want the rally to be viewed as a partisan political event. “Our partner agencies did not feel that they could continue to participate given legal opinions regarding their tax-exempt status and other factors,” said a statement released by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations prior to the rally. “The choice was either to cancel or remove all the political speakers.” The Jewish Star reported online Thursday that threats were made against the tax-exempt status of rally organizers. But the absence of politicians did not stop protesters from showing their support for the Republican ticket. While many wielded signs denouncing Ahmadinejad and his nuclear agenda, others proudly waved placards promoting Senator John McCain and Governor Palin. Several high school and college students participated in the event by reciting Tehillim onstage and speaking about the abusive policies of the Iranian government toward its citizens. Rally organizers also made a public announcement thanking Yeshiva University, which canceled classes during the time of the rally, enabling many of their students to attend. Musical entertainment was provided by the popular Blue Fringe band, which opened up the rally with a catchy rendition of “Od yavo shalom Aleinu,” and wrapped it up by playing “Am yisrael chai,” accompanied by audience members enthusiastically singing along. Monday’s rally was the first of several planned for the week during which Ahmadinejad and other world leaders were scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly. Students at Rambam organized a rally against Ahmadinejad on Thursday, Sept. 25, during his planned speech in Manhattan before a number of religious organizations, including the Mennonite Central Committee, Quaker United Nations Office, and Religions for Peace and World Council of Churches. “We are bringing all our schools down to express outrage that Ahmadinejad is addressing a forum under the umbrella of tolerance and peace,” said Rabbi Friedman on Tuesday. “He has made it clear that he seeks to destroy the State of Israel and kill millions of Jews. The notion that he should speak at a religious conference focused on peace is an absurdity, and we are calling attention to this inconsistency.” caption info: Photos courtesy of Machon HaTorah and HANC Students from Rambam Mesivta (bottom), HAFTR (left) and HANC protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a rally Monday by the United Nations.

Photos courtesy of Machon HaTorah and Hebrew Academy of Nassau County