by: Ben Harris, JTA - Last updated: 2007-09-23
Israel and its allies say they want Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrested when he arrives in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
On Monday, a team of lawyers and diplomats who want Ahmadinejad tried for inciting genocide will call on the US Department of Justice to arrest the Iranian president when he lands on American soil. The call comes as Jewish groups are preparing for a full-court press on the Iran issue in meetings planned with world leaders gathered for the yearly assembly. Also on Monday, a protest rally is planned outside UN Headquarters.
"He is an international war criminal," said Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz. "He has repeatedly violated the anti-genocide convention. He is as guilty as the Rwandans who are convicted and sentenced to years in prison for inciting genocide."
In recent days, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, has also called for Ahmadinejad to be arrested and put on trial for incitement to genocide.
Ahmadenijad's visit has been roiling New York for days. A scheduled appearance at Columbia University has prompted calls for the school to rescind the invitation. Columbia refused, invoking the principle of free speech. And an uproar over the Iranian president's request to visit Ground Zero caused a swift reaction from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which condemned reports that the New York City Police Department intended to provide him with an honor escort. Within hours, the department clarified that it had denied the request, an announcement duly welcomed by Jewish leaders.
"Iran is the most immediate and pressing issue," said Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference's executive vice chairman.
Ahmadinejad's visit to New York comes as a showdown looms in the Security Council over a third round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The United States is calling for harsher measures to pressure Iran and is hosting a meeting of permanent members of the council and Germany in Washington Friday to push for a new resolution. Russia, which holds a veto in the council, announced Wednesday it was opposed to further sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iran announced this week that it has drawn up plans for a retaliatory strike against Israel if it is attacked by the Jewish state.
Barely a year ago, Jewish groups were urging the White House to tone down rhetoric linking its Iran policy with pledges to protect Israel because they feared that Jews would be blamed for any military action the United States might take.
Any such qualms seem to have evaporated as Jewish groups and prominent Jewish figures have taken center stage in urging a tough line on Iran. The Anti-Defamation Leage, whose leader last year summarized the Jewish message to Bush as "Thank you, but no thank you," is now producing posters calling Iran a threat to Israel, the Jewish people, America and the world.
Hoenlein sought to emphasize that the world recognizes that Iran is not only a problem for Jews. The rally Monday would include delegations from Christian and Muslim groups, he said, including one from as far as Tennessee.
"This is not linked to the question of Israel," Hoenlein said. "This is not Israel's issue. It's the world's issue."
Despite American obligations as the U.N. host country, Dershowitz said there is an exception in the case of war criminals. "You can't use the U.N. as a shield and a sword for genocide," he said.
He also said he doesn't expect authorities to make the arrest, but he feels pressure should be exerted in any case.
"We are told it's not going to happen," Dershowitz said. "But nonetheless I believe we have to do the right thing."