Do you believe Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? That is the question we face after this week’s troubling events surrounding Ahmadinejad’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly.
Just two days before arriving in New York, Ahmadinejad declared during a military parade that Iran would “break the hand” of any aggressor against the country’s “legitimate interests” (nuclear program perhaps?). At the same parade, the banner, in both English and Farsi, “Israel should be eliminated from the universe” was displayed.
Are such threats made by the Iranian leader towards America and Israel a joke? Are they a rhetorical device? Or does the president mean what he says?
We should ask ourselves these questions because by their actions, much of the official American Jewish leadership decided that, indeed, Ahmadinejad need not be taken seriously. More disgraceful, indeed, these official Jews took the interests of the Democratic Party into greater consideration than the Iranian threat.
How else to interpret what happened to Monday’s scheduled protest across from the United Nations. Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York had accepted an invitation to speak at the protest. So did Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
When it was announced that both women would be appearing, Clinton withdrew. The organizers then issued an invitation to Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who declined because he had a previous engagement.
American Jewish advocacy groups like the new Israel lobbying group, J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council launched into high gear with press releases and email blasts. Were they pleading with Biden to change his mind and attend the rally? After all, the stated purpose of the protest, according to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (one of the organizers) was to “Stand together and speak out against terror.” Didn’t the organizers say they wanted a broad coalition of people to join the protest? Wouldn’t the protest be that much more effective if both campaigns for the presidency were so highly represented?
Not on your life. The email blasts and press releases all said the same thing; Sarah Palin has no business coming to the protest. Tell her to go away. “Sarah Palin at a rally to unify American Jews on Iran? Really? Palin stands diametrically opposed to American Jews on nearly all issues — including on Iran. With just a few days left before the rally, we have no time to lose,” according to J Street.
This position makes little sense. Palin was attending the rally because she agrees with the American Jewish position on Iran.
The National Jewish Democratic Council was only slightly more coherent. “Monday’s protest against Ahmadinejad is too important to be tainted by partisanship. …We call upon the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to withdraw the invitation to Governor Sarah Palin and we applaud Senator Hillary Clinton’s decision to not attend the rally after the attendance of Palin was announced.” So it wasn’t partisan when Clinton decided not to
And why not call on Biden to attend alongside Palin, if the protest is too important “to be tainted by partisanship?”
None of this would have mattered, however if the organizers of the event — the Conference of Presidents, the National Coalition to Stop Iran Now, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation of New York, Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York — had just ignored those complaints.
Instead, these “official” Jews nodded their collective heads in agreement with the Democratic Party line and rescinded the invitation to Palin. They also uninvited all other politicians, ensuring a smaller and more specifically Jewish turnout.
Even the otherwise reasonable Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents, sounded confused. Speaking about the rescinded invitation he said, “The message of the rally was about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being at the United Nations and his nuclear weapons program, and that was being obfuscated in the media frenzy.” Sorry? Isn’t a “media frenzy” just what you want for a public protest? The higher the profile politician who attends the rally, the more likely attention to the topic will be paid.
Now, instead of a gathering of Americans of all faiths and all political persuasions, including highly placed representatives of both political parties, Monday’s protest was headlined by professional survivor Elie Weisel and attended mostly by Jews. (And not even by as many Jews as might have attended, since many Jewish Republicans knew they’d been snubbed.) So much for making this an urgent “American” matter.
So back to our original question: Do you believe Ahmadinejad? Is Iran a real threat or not? If he’s not a realistic threat, the protest was meaningless to begin with. If you think he is a real danger, and Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is a major national security issue the protest organizers’ actions were disgraceful and served only to weaken our position.
One last question: Does anyone think that we’ve got Iran’s president running scared?
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, returns to The Chronicle after having a baby this summer. She can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.)