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A Tale Of Two Speeches

Today in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad is giving a big speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Yesterday, Sarah Palin didn't speak at a rally organized in protest of that speech. What's the deal?

At 11:45 yesterday morning, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held a rally outside the U.N. to protest Ahmadinejad's continued defiance of that very body's demands regarding the perpetuation of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Last week, rally organizers invited Palin to speak at the protest, which would have been an edifying moment for people concerned about her foreign policy inexperience, not to mention a welcome gesture of solidarity with those of us -- Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Ba'hai, atheist, what have you -- who find a nuclear Iran intolerable. Hillary Clinton was also slated to speak at the rally. But when she found out that Palin had also been invited, she immediately dropped out, and her aides "fumed over what they saw as a slight by organizers," according to the Jerusalem Post. (For an idea why Clinton might not have wanted to appear on a stage next to Sarah Palin, just watch the opening sketch from Saturday Night Live two weeks ago).

Now, one would think that Jewish organizations would be delighted that the Vice Presidential candidate of one of the two major political parties would stand with them in expressing solidarity against a man and a regime which have repeatedly denied the Holocaust while simultaneously calling for another one. This was not the case. Upon hearing of the decision, J Street (whose claims to representing a significant number of Jews on Israeli issues I've previously debunked) demanded the Alaska Governor be disinvited because her "views on abortion, the environment, and just about every other issue are out of step with the American Jewish community," as if her positions on any of these things are at all relevant to her stance on Iran and the other security threats Israel faces. The National Jewish Democratic Council also protested because the rally was "too important to be tainted by partisanship,"  plea that might have seemed almost sincere had it not come from an explicitly partisan organization. None of the liberals who cried "partisanship" saw fit to complain when just Hillary Clinton was on the program.

(Yesterday, the New York Sun printed an exclusive copy of the speech Palin was prepared to deliver, but didn't, thanks to the machinations of Democratic partisans. It's unfortunate she wasn't able to read it, as it hits all the right points.)

Meanwhile, other religious figures are reaching out to Ahmadinejad. On Thursday, the Iranian president will be the honored guest at an Iftar dinner--the ceremonial breaking of the Ramadan fast--at the New York Grand Hyatt Hotel. That meal is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace, and the World Council of Churches-United Nations Liaison Office (notice the absence of any Jewish organization.) According to the invitation, the assembled guests--including Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Rev. Kjell Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway and President of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights--will hold a "conversation about the role of religions in tackling global challenges and building peaceful societies." The discussion will occur "In the presence of His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

You'd think that with such a high-profile figure addressing such an important topic, the Quaker lobby and its friends would want to share their honored guest's views with the world. But the event is closed to the press. So I called Mark Graham, Director of External Relations for the American Friends Service Committee. He said that "Jewish individuals," but not Jewish organizations, had been invited to Thursday's event, though he wouldn't name any of them for me. As far as the program is concerned, the evening's discussion will consist of a "dialogue around the idea that God has created us all and our common humanity. People are going to speak about the politicial, social,and religious implications that it has for their faith perspectives." This is actually the fourth event that AFSC (which has led interfaith delegations to Iran, though, again, with no Jews participating) has held with Ahmadinejad, and when I asked Graham about Ahmadinejad's thoughts on the Holocaust, he defended the Iranian President, telling me that "he readily says that the Holocaust was an historical event and he feels for the Palestinian people since the creation of Israel." When I asked if AFSC would press the Iranian President about his pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, support for international terrorism and the murder of American soldiers in Iraq, Graham told me that, "What we hope for with this event, like with others, is that we will help to understand each other a bit better. We will have more precedent for open questioning and a two-way dialogue that's open and honest."

There will be a protest of this Quaker Meeting. Details here.

--James Kirchick