Jews speak out against Ahmadinejad visit &mdash but is anyone listening

With speeches, fiery rhetoric and protestations of one sort of another, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his opponents in the United States faced off against each other during his latest visit to New York.

By the end of the visit — after Iran’s president used the bully pulpit of the U.N. General Assembly to tag Zionists as murderers and suggest they are responsible for the global economic turmoil, after a rally of thousands opposite the United Nations to protest Iran, after Ahmadinejad was feted with multiple media interviews and a Ramadan break-fast meal hosted by a leading U.S. Quaker group — not much appeared to have changed.

Iran continued to assert its intention to maintain its nuclear pursuits, international inspectors continued to be barred from Iran’s nuclear facilities and Iran’s Jewish opponents continued to issue a steady stream of warnings about the Islamic Republic and condemnations of the Iranian president.

But shortly after Ahmadinejad left the country, two new resolutions aimed at tightening the noose around Iran — one in the U.N. Security Council and one in Congress — were moving forward.

On Sept. 27, the Security Council passed a new resolution pressing Iran to comply with nuclear weapons inspectors and reiterating earlier sanctions resolutions against the Islamic Republic. Though the new measure did not contain any new sanctions legislation, it was a reaffirmation of the Security Council’s resolve to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear arms and served as a rebuke to the regime in Tehran for not cooperating with weapons inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In Washington, lawmakers in the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Iran sanctions legislation Sept. 26.

Like the earlier bills, the new measure would close loopholes allowing U.S. companies to operate foreign subsidiaries that deal with Iran, expand the range of sanctions against foreign entities that deal with Iran and facilitate divestment from Iran for pensions.

The resolutions at the United Nations and in Washington capped a week in which Ahmadinejad’s visit gave Iran and its opponents myriad platforms to showcase their views to the public.

The week was bookended by rallies. First came the gathering Sept. 22 of several thousand at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza opposite the United Nations in a Jewish-sponsored event marred somewhat by the controversy that erupted over the withdrawal of an invitation to Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

The week ended with a protest of a couple of hundred activists Sept. 25 outside Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, where Ahmadinejad was being hosted at a Ramadan iftar meal sponsored by Mennonite, Quaker and other religious groups.

In the days between, Ahmadinejad delivered his speech at the United Nations, Israeli President Shimon Peres delivered a rebuttal of sorts, news outlets from National Public Radio to CNN’s Larry King sat down with the Iranian president, and Jewish organizations issued a torrent of news releases condemning Ahmadinejad and, in some cases, the organizations and people meeting with him.

In the address, Ahmadinejad’s most public stage of the week, the Iranian president delivered a scathing attack on Zionists and sounded some classic anti-Semitic motifs. He said Zionists are criminals and murderers, are “acquisitive” and “deceitful,” and dominate global finance despite their “miniscule” number.

“It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential nominees have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings and swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to win financial or media support,” Ahmadinejad said.

Iran’s president also said Israel was on the path to collapse and that its demise would be a good thing for the world.

Ahmadinejad echoed those sentiments in interviews throughout the week, explaining patiently to a succession of American interviewers that his remarks constitute predictions of Israel’s demise, not threats by Iran to destroy it. He also said that his hostility is reserved for Zionists, not Jews, and that Iran’s nuclear interests are peaceful, not belligerent.

Journalists challenged some of Ahmadinejad’s contentions, questioning him about his Holocaust views, his regime’s human rights abuses, the Islamic Republic’s support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. But the president often seemed to outmaneuver his interlocutors with his patient demeanor and the help of his female translator.

Despite their efforts, many Jewish organizational officials acknowledge that the Iranian problem is being viewed, first and foremost, as a matter of Jewish concern. This is evident in the widespread assumption that no state other than Israel is likely to take the action of last resort — i.e. a military strike — to stop an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Still, with few outside the Jewish community picking up the torch, national Jewish communal leaders based in New York felt they needed to speak out.

“There is a growing sense that we had to abandon the earlier concern about it being a wedge issue simply because of the growing alarm about the Iran nuclear program and the shortness of time,” said the AJC’s Harris.