NEW YORK – The last time Dr. Arnold Berlin held a sign at a protest he was a student at Tulane University and it was 1967, the height of the Vietnam War. And while many US foreign policy decisions have since irked the physician, it took the recent nuclear deal with Iran to convince him to take to Times Square Wednesday night as part of the “Stop Iran Now” rally.
“I am very much against this deal. It’s incredibly dangerous. I had to come,” said Berlin, who came from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so he and a friend might hold his nearly 8-foot-long banner high above the crush of people.
An estimated 10,000 people converged on Times Square, from 42nd Street all the way to 40th Street. People came in buses and caravans from Charlotte, North Carolina, from Chicago, Columbus and Philadelphia. In addition to Times Square, there were also similar demonstrations in Ft. Lauderdale, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Toronto, Canada.
Police repeatedly instructed people to keep sidewalks clear to no avail; the sidewalks were impassable.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a financial expert who has also held senior positions in government, organized the rally to alert Americans to the dangers of the nuclear agreement recently reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers, he said.
“We came to the conclusion that we must educate the public, in the most strident language, that this is a farce, this is a threat – not just to Israel but for America and for the world. A failure to ‘Stop Iran Now’ could necessitate a military response later,” Wiesenfeld told The Times of Israel.
The result of years of negotiations, the deal aims to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief. But opponents of the deal say it leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, including centrifuges and research facilities, and does not offer sufficient guarantees of transparency to ensure Tehran does not cheat on the agreement.
Wiesenfeld hopes the bipartisan rally will convince members of the US Congress to reject the deal. He called on New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, to lead the way. Many of the signs held aloft at the rally addressed Schumer, alongside chants of “Where is Chuck?” from the crowd.
Schumer has said he has not yet decided how he will vote. His spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The public will not be fooled again; Americans will not stand for another North Korea. If this deal is not stopped, New York voters will know who to blame,” Wiesenfeld said.
In a telephone interview before the rally, former New York governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate George Pataki said US President Barack Obama violated his oath of office when he took the deal to the United Nations Security Council last week before giving Congress a chance to review the document. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, Congress has 60 days to review the deal, and can seek scuttle it with legislation that would prevent the White House’s planned rescinding of some of the sanctions placed on Iran.
“That showed tremendous disrespect for the US Congress and it was an active betrayal of Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East,” Pataki said of the UN vote.
The deal threatens American security, Pataki said.
“In no way does this deal change Iran’s attitude to America. During the negotiations it was calling for ‘Death to America,’” he noted. “There are dozens of legitimate reasons to reject this deal. It allows for hundreds of billions in [sanctions] relief, the lifting of sanctions on conventional arms, all while Iran keeps supporting terror around the world.”
Weisenfeld is the head of the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition, JRRC, which he founded in 2014 to protest the Metropolitan Opera staging of the controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
“Clearly Iran is a much greater threat to the world than an opera,” Wiesenfeld said.
Dozens of organizations were represented at the rally, including Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Israeli American Council, New York State Federation of Republican Women, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America.
Speakers included Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, “The Israel Campaign” founder and an outreach coordinator for CUFI Kasim Hafeez, former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, journalist Caroline Glick and former CIA director James Woolsey.
“I was personally in favor of a negotiated agreement if it’s an airtight deal, if Obama kept his promise. But the deal is not airtight,” Dershowitz told The Times of Israel. “The opposition to the deal that many have expressed made it difficult for Kerry to back down any more. The rally is important because it’s always helpful to add pressure.”
Beth Chesir came to the rally on her way home to New Jersey.
“I don’t want to face the mirror someday and say I didn’t do everything possible to stop this deal,” Chesir said. “I’m fearful that it can’t be stopped now that Obama threatens to veto any resolution Congress passes, plus the fact that the Europeans support it. But if this can help, then that’s good.”
According to a recent Monmouth University poll, 55 percent of Americans said “not at all” when asked if they trusted Iran to honor the agreement’s terms.
Organizers estimated about 10,000 people attended the event.
AP contributed to this report.