Ahmadinejad demo 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel might not have any diplomatic relations with Teheran, but that didn't stop Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from sending a message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday.
Standing meters from the United Nations' headquarters, she told him: "Get out and stay out!"
Her words were greeted with approval by the thousands of outraged protesters who gathered to oppose Ahmadinejad's appearance at the opening of the UN General Assembly session this week and his invitation to speak at Columbia University on Monday afternoon.
Organizers said the demonstration was the largest such protest in recent years.
But Livni said she supported the Iranian leader's visit to the Ivy League institution.
"I think Ahmadinejad should go to school - not to lecture but to learn," she said to laughter and applause from the crowd. "This man has a great deal to learn about history, especially about the Holocaust!"
Martin Berger couldn't agree more. The 84-year-old Holocaust survivor stood for more than two hours in the warm sun to "show the world that Auschwitz is not a myth. We were in Auschwitz."
Ahmadinejad has questioned the reality of the Holocaust, and his threats to wipe Israel off the map coupled with his nuclear efforts "bring me back to 1939," in the words of Berger.
He said it was hard for him to hold up his sign, which read: "You liar! You denier! I'm a Holocaust survivor!" throughout the rally, but that it was important to do so. "It's difficult to stand and to walk, but it's our duty to the memory of those who died," Berger said.
Ahmadinejad was also being heard on Monday, as he gave a round of interviews before his Columbia appearance.
But the exposure was fine with Shai Franklin of the World Jewish Congress, who attended the rally in front of the UN.
"The best tool we have in countering Iran's nuclear ambitions is Ahmadinejad," Franklin said. "Ahmadinejad is so open and vocal" about his positions on Israel and other controversial stances. "That's the reason we're able to get sanctions - he makes it unavoidable."
Berger was joined by thousands of others, many of whom held signs asking whether Ahmadinejad was the new Hitler. Organizers calculated the turnout at 25,000, though unofficial police estimates put the figure closer to 10,000.
Though he didn't have a precise number, William Daroff of the United Jewish Communities, one of the protests' sponsors, said the rally was significantly bigger than the one held last year, when Ahmadinejad also spoke at the UN.
Daroff, standing amid the protesters clogging East 47th Street, said this year's crowd was "more energized. Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia really touched a nerve."
Other organizers said the turnout would have been even greater if the two events hadn't occurred simultaneously, as many Ahmadinejad opponents headed to the university instead.
Nevertheless, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, another rally sponsor, labelled the turnout as "phenomenal," especially for something planned in two weeks.
Demonstrators, many of them Jewish, came from as far away as Canada, California the Deep South and many states in between.
Hoenlein also pointed to non-Jewish speakers and protesters, saying, "When people look at the platform, they see all of America."
He said their message was important to Iranian students who opposed Ahmadinejad and might see him using his appearance at Columbia to boost himself domestically.
Pastors, congressmen and former diplomats took the stage to denounce Ahmadinejad. Former US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke told the crowd: "You make a difference. You're being heard around the world today."