A group of over 10,000 protesters gathered just south of Times Square last Wednesday evening to take a stand against the recently agreed-upon landmark deal signed between the P5+1 nations and Iran. The crowd believed that the agreement would further Iran’s nuclear ambitions and prove to be a danger to both Israel and the United States.
The crowd, which swelled behind police barricades, extended down 7th Avenue from 42nd Street to 39th Street. At times, the protesters urged the police to “close the street,” to facilitate the growing throng.
“I’ve walked by many protests in the area and they usually only span one block,” said Etan Bluman, a senior tax associate with Ernst & Young, which has an office in Times Square. “This was the first time I had seen a crowd so large.”
Speakers ranged in political affiliation from the conservative firebrands Monica Crowley and former Congressman Allen West (R-FL) to liberal stalwarts Alan Dershowitz and former New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau (D-NY).
“It was great to see Dershowitz come to us as a Liberal Democrat and say that this should be a bipartisan issue,” said Rina Schiller, a student in Macaulay Honors at Hunter College.
Much of the outcry from the speakers was targeted against New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Signs reading “Schumer, you are no shomer,” dotted the crowd and Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the organizer of the rally, asked why the senator had not yet taken a strong stance against the bill. “You’re there for cereal prices, you’re there for powdered alcohol, you’re there for every meshigas, where are you for this?” Wiesenfeld said.
He went on to point out that if Schumer were to fail to prevent the bill’s passage, “New York voters will know who to blame.” A separate protest was scheduled for outside of Schumer’s office the following day.
Wiesenfeld also highlighted the support New York representatives have given towards Civil Rights legislation, and wondered where their support was now, calling this moment “our Civil Rights, our right to live.”
Despite the high profile of the rally, only one of the nearly two dozen presidential candidates, former New York Governor George Pataki, made an appearance. He urged Congress to “reject this deal. Protect America. Protect Israel and protect the world from terror.”
While the majority of speakers shied away from directly addressing President Obama, he was also attacked by some. Some rally-goers held signs implying that the President was in cahoots with the Iranian government, combining his name with that of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while another read “Obama Lies, Americans Die.”
Former Congressman West referred to the President as a “weakling” and “charlatan,” and said agreeing to a deal with Iran was a “damn stupid thing.” The crowd howled nearly every time Obama’s or Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s name was mentioned.
“It bothered me that people booed political leaders like Obama and Hillary and insinuated that the President is leading us down the path to another Holocaust,” Schiller said.
For all the political ramifications of the deal, perhaps the most meaningful part of the rally stemmed not from its stated goals, but from its timing.
“It is no coincidence that it happened during the Nine Days, when Jewish unity is of utmost importance. It was amazing to see people stop what they were doing on a Wednesday night, a work night, and take time to come together,” said Rabbi Andrew Markowitz, Associate Rabbi at Congregation Shomrei Torah of Fair Lawn, NJ. He led a group of 40 congregants from his community to the rally.
“I might not have agreed with everything that everyone said from the podium,” Schiller added. “But seeing thousands of people with one goal, all gathered in Times Square, was incredibly powerful.”
Since the Wednesday rally, other similar events have been held in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Scottsdale, AZ.
Zachary Schrieber is a freelance writer. He will begin his studies at Columbia Law School in the fall.
By Zachary Schrieber