Take hundreds of Jewish people, add speakers strongly opposed to the Iran nuclear deal and the result will be hyperbole and passion. But before a rally outside New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Manhattan offices had even begun Tuesday, the terms “anti-Semite” and “white racist” were being thrown around.
About 15 minutes before the first speaker took the stage, protest co-organizer Jeff Wiesenfeld demanded that New York City Police Department personnel remove someone he said previously had “tried to assault our demonstrators.” At a prior rally, Wiesenfeld said this person “was was taunting elderly Holocaust survivors.” After he showed up again, if only briefly, the agitator was taken away and arrested.
And passions were only further inflamed from there.
This was the scene at a second anti-Iran nuclear deal rally — the first was held in July — where protesters carried signs, waved American flags and put their full support for Israel on display. The organizers, protesters and lawmakers in attendance all believe the agreement with Iran that would curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions being lifted is a grave threat to the very survival of the Jewish state.
As recently as July, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised his countrymen for using the slogan “death to Israel.” Despite the government negotiating with international leaders, including Secretary of State John Kerry, the Muslim leader has not softened these extremist positions.
From the politicians — Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — to the activists who attended Tuesdays really, they all said the continued security of Israel is what worries them most. Purposely using post-Holocaust rhetoric and the axiom “never again,” both Lieberman and Graham proclaimed distrust of the Iranian regime and its opposition to the nuclear deal negotiated by the U.S., China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Protester Emily Winters of Fairfield, Conn., said she traveled into the city to attend the rally “because I don’t like what is happening to this country, and we shouldn’t trust [Iran] to begin with. ‘Death to America?’ You don’t have to be a rocket scientist.”
She even showed up with her own homemade sign. “I had to go out and buy a red marker,” she said. “I lived in the Middle East, and I know the deal.”
President Barack Obama has said he will veto any effort by Congress to block approval of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA). Though senior New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer has said he will vote against the deal, his colleague Gillibrand supports the agreement.
The JCPA aims to limit Iran’s nuclear program, prevent the state from developing an atomic weapon and curtail its uranium enrichment program. When it was unveiled in July, Congress was given 60 days to review the agreement. For it to go into effect, Khamenei must also sign off on the deal, and some have speculated he may face strong opposition from hardliners in his own country.
Before former U.S. Navy SEAL Ken Stethem addressed the crowd, protesters got dosed with patriotic songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “You’re A Grand Old Flag.” Stethem’s brother Robert, also a Navy SEAL, was kidnapped when his TWA flight was hijacked in 1985. He was then tortured and later killed by Hezbollah militants — a terrorist group whom protesters believe carry out attacks on behalf of, and with approval from, Iranian extremists.
These anthems set the stage for conservative radio talk-show hosts and Stethem, Graham and Lieberman to fire up the crowd in opposition to negotiating with Iran. Invoking European powers’ appeasement of Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler on the eve of World War II and the following Holocaust, Graham said the Iran deal “is the biggest miscalculation since Munich. Never again. … President Obama says, ‘The crazies will vote no.’ Let me tell you: You’re crazy if you vote yes.”
Wiesenfeld added, “We’re on the verge of surrender to one of the most horrific regimes known in the world. A tyrannical regime to which the United States is prepared to deliver nuclear weapons. They will not build hospitals and highways. They will kill and maim innocent people as they have done in the past.” He also called on Schumer to lobby his colleagues in Congress to vote against the deal, which some feel he has not done enough of.
Graham also called Khamenei “a religious Nazi,” saying, “He wants a national religion, not a national race. [Khamenei] would kill everybody here if he could. When he says ‘Death to Israel,’ he literally means it. When he says, ‘Death to America,’ he wants to accomplish it.”
As the chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Graham said he can control the purse strings. “I am in charge of all the funding for the United Nations in the United States Senate,” he explained. “To our friends at the International Atomic Energy Association: You will not get a penny until you gives us that agreement,” he said to applause. “No secret deals. You would be crazy to vote on a deal when you don’t know what’s in it. You would be crazy to let the Iranians inspect themselves.”
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.