Yesterday thousands gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the United Nations in New York to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pledge to destroy Israel, and to show solidarity with Iranian protestors who have faced down Iran's mad mullahs in recent months.
The plaza was awash in green worn by protesters in solidarity with Iran's freedom-seekers as speakers including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, and South Sudanese Christian human rights activist Simon Deng called for freedom and fair elections in Iran.
Demonstrators came to New York from as far away as Houston, Texas, Spokane, Washington and Ottowa, Canada. Interviewed individually, Iranian-American and Iranian-Canadian demonstrators spoke of the urgent need to uphold freedom and human rights in Iran.
"I'm Iranian Muslim and I'm dead against the [current Iranian] regime," said Zizi Reich, 68, a retired nurse who grew up in Iran, and who traveled from Spokane to attend the rally. "The Iranian election is a farce. I still have family there. They are not free to talk on the phone, but from what I can gather, it's much worse there than what you see on CNN.
"I can't believe the courage of these young men and women. They are right in the faces of the Basijis and they get beaten and get back up again. Iranian young people are going against guns and batons and the least I can do is show my solidarity with them."
Parviz Ashtari, 60, a retired electrical engineer, and his wife Nancy Ashtari, 52, a nurse, came from Houston to show their opposition to the Iranian regime.
"We don't have a democracy in Iran; this regime is a killer, a rapist, against humanity," said Mr. Ashtari. "I left [Iran] 23 years ago, at the time of the Khomeinist revolution. It was bad; I felt that from the beginning. They were against humanity, against educated persons.
"Ahmadinejad shouldn't be here. The U.N. should be for human rights, not against human rights."
Iranian-American demonstrators were strongly supportive of Jewish concerns about Ahamadinejad's Holocaust-denial and stated desire to annihilate Israel.
"[Jewish protestors] came here because ... [Ahmadinejad] says Iran has to wipe out Israel," said Mr. Ashtari. "I don't agree...he doesn't know history."
Mrs. Ashtari added: "300,000 [Israelis] are our Iranian brothers and sisters, Iranian Jews. The Islamic Republic threw them away."
Jasmine Gaeini, a nurse from Toronto who was turned out in green to condemn Ahmadinejad, said, "Ahmadinejad said we [Iranians ] are against Jewish people...[ But regarding] Israel, we don't have any problem with these people. They are smart. We need them. I love them. We are here to support them as well. I believe we have another Hitler [in Ahmadinejad]."
Asked if she felt there was real chance for regime change without war, Ms. Gaeini, who declined to give her age but looked to be in her thirties, said, "Yes. There is a real chance for regime change short of war. But only if everyone supports us. Other people, other countries."
Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denial and desire to destroy Israel does not reflect the views of most Iranians, according to those at yesterday's rally.
"Most Iranians understand what happened to the Jewish people [in Europe]...I'd say 60 to 70 percent of Iranians understand," said Reich. "Of course, there are some people in Iran who support the regime."
She added that according to her relatives in Iran, many of the Basij -- the Iranian paramilitary group that takes orders from the mullahs and cracks down on dissidents -- are foreigners, because most Iranians do not want to brutalize their fellow citizens.
"[The mullahs] bring these people from other countries," Reich said. "They are Palestinians, Lebanese, and Chechnyans."
Signs held aloft at the rally bore messages like, "On Religious Freedom Israel is Right" and "Israel is on the Map to Stay."
Another Iranian-American man at the rally, who wished to comment only anonymously, said he supported the anti-Ahmadinejad, Jewish-American protesters. But he cautioned against an Israeli mission to set back Iran's nuclear program.
"The military option would be a disaster," he said. "It would start a war and give an excuse to [the mullahs]...the people of Iran would put things aside and fight with their country ...Let's say [Israel] gets rid of nuclear weapons, there would [still] be another war between Israel and Iran."
Jewish-Americans in attendance expressed dismay that the United Nations hosted Ahmadinejad.
"That the United Nations allows [Ahmadinejad] to say he'll wipe out a state, and does nothing about it, is terrible," said Karl Kaplan, 83, a retired CPA from East Brunswick, New Jersey. "It sounds like the days of the Nazis. We did nothing then. The League of Nations was a failure and frankly, the United Nations is a failure."
He added he maintains hope the world's people will unite in isolating Iranian leadership, which has declared genocidal intent. He also expressed solidarity with Iranian-Americans.
"Iranians have their own problems; people's relatives feel threatened," he said. "Our relatives in Israel are threatened. Some of the people here have relatives who are not only threatened but have been thrown in prison and killed, so our hearts go out to them."
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