(Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2011)—From Dec. 3-5, B’nai B’rith International held its annual policy conference in Montevideo, Uruguay—the first international B’nai B’rith event ever held in Latin America. Former Chilean President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Vice-Prime Minister of Israel Moshe Yaalon and U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal were among the conference’s many high-profile speakers. They spoke about issues from efforts to delegitimize Israel to global anti-Semitism and Iran’s infiltration into Latin America.
“This conference gave all our attendees—from international and local leaders to our valued members and B’nai B’rith leaders—the opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges and advances that are being addressed throughout Latin America, specifically those that affect the continent’s Jewish communities,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs, speaking from Montevideo.
Frei, Chile’s president from 1994 to 2000, spoke about what he sees as a new era of worldwide protests against social and economic inequality, saying that in Latin America as well as the entire world, people are constantly fighting on a larger scale trying to have a better life. Frei also spoke about the need for integration and partnership among international organizations such as MERCOSUR, the South American free-trade organization into which Chile entered during his administration.
He also addressed the pervasive inequality in Latin America, saying that it is the most inequitable continent in the world in terms of society, economics and politics. He cited the need for strong democracies throughout the continent, with division of powers which he hopes might reverse widespread poverty.
Vice-Prime Minister of Israel Moshe Yaalon spoke about the international challenges facing Israel and the Middle East peace process. He focused on the Iranian threat not only in the Middle East but to Latin America and throughout the world from monitoring terrorism, increasing Iranian influence in Venezuela and throughout the region and the potential of a nuclear Iran.
Yaalon also said, in reference to the potential for negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, there remains the seminal problem that the Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“This conference accomplished—in fact, surpassed—our goals. With our international participant list and engaging, insightful and timely speakers, we were able to cover the wide range of issues affecting Jewish communities worldwide,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, also speaking from Montevideo.
Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, also addressed the conference. She discussed global anti-Semitism with a special focus on Latin America, noting: “In the 21st century we are still facing rising anti-Semitism internationally and the shores of this continent are far from immune.
“In Venezuela, government-affiliated media carry anti-Semitic expressions. And in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil we have reports of anti-Semitic desecrations and harassment. These incidents tell us that anti-Semitism is not history, it is news. My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and the media,” Rosenthal said.
Emilio Cardenas, former Argentinean ambassador to the United Nations, spoke about the political, economic and social disparities throughout Latin America. He mentioned how some countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador don’t respect democracy and instead perpetuate the worst form of populism—lack of democracy with no freedom of speech or press. On the other hand, he pointed out that many countries, such as Brazil and Argentina are leading the way toward a democratized society and he called on these governments to display stronger criticism of countries that endorse anti-Semitism.
Political analyst Julian Schvindlerman said he believes Venezuela is the leader of the promotion of anti-Semitism in Latin America today. He also said Latin America is not an enemy of Israel but it’s also not an ally. He expressed concern about the growing presence of radical Islam worldwide, including the spread of Hezbollah’s influence of Latin America—a major area of concern for the continent’s Jewish communities.
Other speakers at the conference included Danny Brom, clinical psychologist and founding director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem; and Jorge Grunberg, one of the leading international experts on economic growth and its impact on education in Latin America. Also in attendance were former Presidents of Uruguay Luis Lacalle, Tabare Vazquez and Jorge Batlle; current Vice President of Uruguay Danilo Astori, Mayor of Montevideo Ana Olivera, Uruguayan senators from all political parties, ambassadors of Chile and Israel, and the Charge d'Affaires of the United States. A gala dinner was held as part of the conference to honor former U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay, Frank Baxter.