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Jewish Groups, Israeli Supporters in NY Rally Against Iran

American Jewish organizations, Israeli activist groups and other supporters of Israel rallied in New York City Monday to protest Iran's nuclear program and the appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations' General Assembly opening session. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

Waving Israeli and American flags, singing songs and chanting verses, thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the United Nations building in New York.

John Ruskay of the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York said he and supporters gathered to send a message to Iran's leader. "When President Ahmadinejad comes to New York, we will, as we have, as we must do, say what he intends to do with his nuclear program is an anathema to all Americans -- Republican and Democrat, young and old, Christian, Jew, Muslim -- to everyone," he said.

The rally faced political controversy last week when former Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton, who was invited to speak at the event, backed out. Clinton's aides announced her pull out after learning that Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had also been invited.

Days after the Clinton announcement, organizers of the protest rescinded their invitation to Palin, saying they did not want the rally to turn into a partisan political event. The move angered Republican presidential nominee John McCain who accused his Democratic rivals of having Palin "disinvited".

One politician who did appear at the event, however, was Dalia Itzik. The Israeli Knesset [Parliament] Speaker said Iran's nuclear ambitions pose a serious danger to not just her country, but many others. "These weapons will not only threaten Israel, they will also threaten Paris, Rome, London and New York. Iran's leadership is a threat to peace, a threat to the whole world, a threat to its own people," he said.

Eva-Lee Baird said she too is concerned about the safety of everybody in the world, but she said the "hawk-like rhetoric in the rally" was not the best thing for Israel either. A member of the progressive women-initiated grassroots movement, CODEPINK, Baird and other group members stood on the outskirts of the rally.

"Our message is negotiation. I think Ahmadinejad should be allowed to come to the United Nations. I think George Bush should be allowed to come to the United Nations. I don't have very much respect for either one of them as leaders, but I want them here talking to other people because that's the only way that we can save our world," he said.

Baird added she is glad she lives in a country where both leaders are allowed to come to the United Nations, especially if it can prevent what she called a "nuclear catastrophe".