Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in front of the United Nations General Assembly on September 21st, a fact that brought protestors together in cities across the United States. Just a few days later, on September 25th, President Barack Obama announced at the G-20 summit that Iran has a second uranium-enrichment facility under construction, once again violating the non-proliferation agreements.
When on September 21st the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) hosted the D.C. rally to protest Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic speech to the U.N., members of the JCRC said they promote the passing of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009—a proposed amendment to Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 that would expand economic sanctions against Iran. Many of the speakers at the rally also touted the increased use of sanctions and other harsher measures against the Iranian government.
Susie Gelman, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, predicted at the rally that if Iran gets nuclear weapons Ahmadinejad’s “first target will be Israel.” Speaking “in solidarity with the people of Iran” who are fighting for their freedom to elect leaders, she urged the participants to say “yes” to real sanctions against Iran. Gelman expressed an urgency to do this while there is still time to impose meaningful sanctions that would deter Iran’s nuclear intentions. Cheers of “yes” from the crowd were followed by a chant of “stop Iran now.”
Nonie Darwish expressed surprise and dismay at Ahmadinejad’s tyranny. Darwish, founder of the non-profit Arabs For Israel, said at the rally that “this is the first time I have ever seen an Iranian leader so obsessed with the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Since Iran is a Persian, not Arab, nation, she called Ahmadinejad’s avid concern for the Israeli conflict an “excuse for mobilizing the weapons.” Referring to Iran’s internationally controversial move towards nuclear power, she said that “Iran must never have nuclear weapons.” According to Darwish, it would be “a threat not only to Israel” but also “the triumph to the people who did 9/11.”
Amir Abbas Fakhravar, Director of International Affairs for the Council for a Democratic Iran, spent five years in an Iranian prison for a book he wrote promoting free speech and democracy. Claiming to speak on behalf of the Iranian people, he said, “We condemn Ahmadinejad’s visit to the U.S. and to the U.N.” Fakhravar urged the audience “to tell President Obama it is not in the interest of the U.S. or Israel to allow a self-elected dictator who kills his own people to come to this country.” He also urged participants to “please separate completely [the] Islamic Republic government from [the] Iranian people.” His audience was mostly Jewish. Fakhravar said he wanted to make it clear to them that while Iran having nuclear capability could be a threat to Israel, the Iranian people are also threatened by their government. He said poignantly that “while the young Iranians suffer from [a] bad economy and lack of jobs, the Islamic Republic funds Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups.” Like himself, many Iranians protest the Iranian government, asserted Fakhravar, saying that “Young Iranians came to the streets and continue to do so to stand up to the regime of mullahs.” He urged anyone listening to get Obama’s support and international support for sanctions against mullahs: “We want hard sanction[s] against mullah[s].” Speaking to the Obama Administration, he pleaded that they “Please stop negotiation with mullah, with Ahmedinejad.”