by Paula Amann
A 5-foot menorah glowed with the light of candles as Jewish and other religious leaders kept vigil Tuesday evening in front of the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
One by one, local political figures and religious representatives were slated to kindle the eight Chanukah lights outside the office on Wisconsin Avenue N.W. in the District.
Candle-lighters were scheduled, at press time, to include, among others, former Montgomery County Council president Ike Leggett; Alexandria City Council member Ludwig Gaines; Pastor John Wimberly Jr. of the Western Presbyterian Church; and Jewish Community Relations Council vice president Susan Weinberg.
Tehran has no embassy in Washington, due to long-term tensions between the two nations, so the Interests Section remains the most visible diplomatic symbol of Iran locally.
The gathering, slated to last one hour, came in response to recent remarks by the country's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the death of 6 million Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.
The JCRC, the American Jewish Committee's Washington chapter and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington jointly sponsored the event.
"Tonight, we all come together to say that threats to Israel, made by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Israel must be wiped off the map, and threats to us, that, as the Iranian president said, 'God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism' are not acceptable," JCRC president Andy Stern said, according to the prepared text of his speech. "We call on the international community to condemn these statements and make it clear that even empty words, as we pray these are, threaten world peace and the safety of the United States, Europe and, indeed, every nation."
Stern went on to demand that the U.S. government bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council for rebuke.
A spokesperson for the Interests Section referred WJW to Iran's U.N. mission, which did not return phone calls by press time.
In a phone interview before the vigil, ICMW executive director Rev. Clark Lobenstine underscored his group's support for the vigil.
"Chanukah is a particularly appropriate time for us to gather to make clear the statements by President Ahmadinejad are outrageous and troubling," Lobenstine said, adding, "The religious community is standing together to protest these dangerous statements and to make clear that people of many diverse faiths in our nation's capital are united in opposing them."
The District event came in the wake of world condemnation of Ahmadinejad's comments, but other groups are also calling for further measures on Iran.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said it has written to world leaders, asking them to refrain from contact with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad until he renounces his recent Holocaust denial and his calls to destroy Israel.
"The world has paid a heavy price in the past for ignoring such violent rhetoric and philosophy of hatred," the chair of the Conference of Presidents, Harold Tanner, and its executive vice chair, Malcolm Hoenlein, said in a statement.
And, in a statement issued a week ago, the Anti-Defamation League noted the 25 letters it had sent to 25 European Union members asking them to take "strong steps" that would isolate the Iranian regime by severing bilateral ties, freezing its assets and banning its leaders from entering E.U. member states.