For the third year in a row, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations spearheaded a rally to protest the appearance at the U.N. General Assembly of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people gathered across from the United Nations Monday for what is becoming an annual event.

We heard heartfelt pleas from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, and Iranian dissidents. Cries of “Stop Iran” echoed through Dag Hammarskjold Plaza but we must ask: Was anyone listening?
Attendance at this year’s rally was noticeably down from last year’s, which drew more than 20,000. Perhaps it was a weary sense of “Oh, Mahmoud is back, time to go protest again.” Or perhaps it was the absence of U.S. political leaders.

Last year’s rally featured an array of New York politicians as well as New Jersey’s Sen. Bob Menendez, who all spoke passionately about America’s dedication to stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This year, after an uproar about having invited Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the Conference of Presidents at the last minute canceled all political speakers to avoid the appearance of election-year pandering. As impressive as Elie Wiesel is, we cannot help but feel the rally had less impact because of this decision.

We, of course, agree with the Conference’s decision to un-invite Palin. To provide her with a podium – with or without a representative of the Democratic ticket – would have drawn the rally into the presidential Ping-Pong match and allowed the parties an opportunity to pander to Jewish voters as to which side would be tougher on Iran. In truth, neither presidential or vice-presidential candidates should have been invited.

However, it is one thing to hear Israeli officials and peace activists declare that Iran must be stopped. It is quite another when those calls to action come from our elected leaders whom we have entrusted to protect us. To have heard some of those officials declare that the U.S. government is doing all it can to prevent a nuclear Iran and protect Israel from fall-out (both nuclear and political) would have reassured the Jewish community that it and Israel are not standing alone against the Islamic republic.

We hope that this rally will not be necessary next year and that Ahmadinejad will soon take his rightful place before the International Criminal Court.

J.L.