You gotta feel a little bad for Jewish leaders here, who were sandbagged by last week’s announcement that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be in New York on Monday for, of all things, the UN’s nuclear nonproliferation talks.
The last-minute announcement by the Iranians meant there wasn’t enough time for the customary debate over the best communal response, inevitably followed by the various Jewish organization going their own way, anyway.
And when you come down to it, what can Jewish organizations do?
No doubt some Republicans will blame the visit on President Obama, as they blame him for everything from unemployment to sunspots, but the UN headquarters agreement left the State Department no choice. That’s the same dilemma George W. Bush faced in 2007, something Obama critics will conveniently forget.
Street protests? That was under consideration over the weekend, but is there any realistic possibility of mobilizing enough protestors to make a real media splash? It’s not like Washington need to be convinced a nuclear Iran represents a big problem, and it’s hard to think Ahmadinejad will be impressed; after all, at home he’s become something of an expert at ignoring and repressing street protests.
Civil disobedience? Well, some more extreme Jewish groups might try that, but to what end? Will a handful of Jews getting arrested in front of the UN change the diplomatic realities that make sanctions a strategy with low likelihood of success, military action an option that’s hard to envision while the United States is still involved in two other wars?
In theory, I like the tack that the Presidents Conference is taking – urging delegates to the conference to walk out when Ahmadinejad takes the dais. In a statement last week, the umbrella group’s leaders said “We call on all countries, particularly those that value democracy and freedom, to leave the United Nations hall when Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rises to speak. We urge them to stand up for the principles of the UN charter, for justice and peace and to stand against the leading state sponsor of terror and violator of human rights who continues to act in violation of numerous Security Council resolutions.”
But realistically, how many nations will heed the call? And what are the chances even a sizable walkout will have much of an impact on Ahmadinejad, who has made a science out of defying international opinion?
Isn’t the dilemma posed by Ahmadinejad’s visit a kind of microcosm of the whole Iran problem? There’s outrage, there’s justifiable worry – but there is also a scary lack of viable policy options.