B’nai B’rith International Special Advisor on Latin American and U.N. Affairs Adriana Camisar sat down with Iton Gadol to talk about our important work combating the demonization of Israel and our efforts supporting a robust Israel-Latin America relationship. This interview has been translated from Spanish to English.
Adriana Camisar, advisor to B’nai B’rith International for Latin American affairs, held an interview with ItonGadol to publicize the important work carried out by this institution with 179 years of history.
“With the issue of international terrorism, alerting all the countries in the region to the dangerousness of Iran’s presence is something constant in our work,” he said.
In addition, he mentioned the recent report prepared by B’nai B’rith to combat accusations that Israel is a racist state, an “apartheid” state, and expressed concern about the increase in anti-Semitism, particularly in Chile.
When we talk about the B’nai B’rith, for the gentle world and the community world, what are we talking about?
-B’nai B’rith is the oldest Jewish humanitarian service organization in the world. It has a great history, it was founded in 1843, 179 years ago. It was founded by a group of German Jewish immigrants in New York. It was initially founded to help new Jewish immigrants in the United States. Obviously, at that time the United States was not the country it is today. In addition to all the needs that these immigrants had, there was a lot of anti-Semitism. Quickly, B’nai B’rith became much more than that, his mission expanded, not only in the United States but around the world. And this happened mainly because B’nai B’rith begins to intercede with the American government to express itself on the treatment of Jews in other countries of the world and there she begins her activity as a protector of Jews and Jewish life around the world.
The members of the B’nai B’rith were very enlightened people who could talk to a government and attract attention or make requests and demands.
That’s right. It began timidly when B’nai B’rith was not so important and over time it became increasingly renowned organization, with very prominent members, not only in the USA, but around the world, and to have much more weight in the opinions and requests of the organization. To show the prominent members of B’nai B’rith, Sigmund Freud was an active member of the organization and, in fact, gave his first lecture on the interpretation of dreams, at the headquarters of the B’nai B’rith in Vienna, in 1888.
Something important to note is that B’nai B’rith played a very important role in the support of the United States for the creation of the State of Israel. He was a member of B’nai B’rith, Eddie Jacobson, who was a friend and former business partner of President Truman, who convinced him to receive Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, and this led to Truman’s support for the UN partition plan. This is documented.
It’s the first time I’ve heard this. What’s the secret? Does the institution’s DNA go more to do than to count?
Maybe so. A low profile was maintained because it is more about doing than counting, but perhaps that needs to be reversed so that people learn a little more about all the work that B’nai B’rith does around the world, not only for the Jewish community, but also for the community in general. It’s really very important.
What is your role in the institution?
I have two roles. On the one hand, I am an advisor to B’nai B’rith International for Latin American affairs, and in that area I work a lot with my colleague who is the director for Latin America, but who lives in Montevideo, Eduardo Kohn. Several years ago I returned to Argentina, because I lived in the United States for many years, and because I was in Argentina, a very important focus of my work has been everything related to the AMIA case. On the other hand, I am also the deputy director of an organization affiliated with B’nai B’rith, which is called AJIRI (American Jewish International Relations Institute). This organization focuses exclusively on the United Nations and trying to change the way States vote at the UN in resolutions that have to do with Israel. The UN, unfortunately, is a very hostile organization with Israel. Every year, more resolutions emerge from the United Nations against Israel than against all the countries of the world, as a whole, which is absurd, unfair and counterproductive. What we do from this organization is try to reverse that.
The series “Miss Jerusalem” has the modality of permanently going from the past to the present, that is, from black and white to color. As I hear her talk, that comes to mind. What is the B’nai B’rith today, with such an important background in years and experience?
-B’nai B’rith is currently an organization that continues to maintain the values with which it was founded. The main areas in which work is being done today are, of course, to ensure the well-being of the Jewish people around the world, fight against anti-Semitism, promote democratic values and human rights, (and in this sense the B’nai B’rith has many programs in many countries that promote respect, diversity, non-discrimination and human rights). Another very important function of B’nai B’rith is to defend Israel, and it does so from its participation in the vast majority of international organizations. I have already mentioned the UN but B’nai B’rith is also present in all the specialized agencies of the UN. In addition, he has been a member of the OAS since the 1960s, I think we were the first Jewish organization to participate in OAS activities. In addition to this participation in international organizations, B’nai B’rith has a lot of humanitarian work, helping people around the world, in cases, for example, of natural disasters and other tragedies, that is, B’nai B’rith’s work is very extensive around the world. The B’nai B’rith Argentina, and this is a great merit of its leaders, although they do so with the support of B’nai B’rith International, has a great drug donation program, which was very successful and reached many people. It was so successful that it is now being replicated in other Latin American countries.
What does this program consist of?
-Those who really know the details of the program are the leaders of B’nai B’rith Argentina, but I know that an agreement was made with a foundation in the USA, by which they donate the medicines to us and we distribute them in Argentina and other countries in the region. That’s why in Argentina we have an agreement with OSDE. It should be checked closely with the people of B’nai B’rith Argentina, who are the experts in the field, but I understand that many millions of dollars in medicines were donated, so we are talking about a very important program.
How is the institution working? Are there people who collaborate and help and are part of it?
-Like most Jewish non-profit organizations, of course we depend on donations, mainly to be able to perform the large number of tasks we do around the world. Luckily, we have many members and many people who support us.
-When talking about AMIA, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress or Latin American also appears, and so we are also talking about the B’nai B’rith. When you refer to the AMIA Attack and the work of the B’nai B’rith, what are we talking about?
-B’nai B’rith has been present since the attack occurred. There was a representative of B’nai B’rith following each step of the initial trial. That first investigation that unfortunately had too many irregularities and had to be annulled. This member of B’nai B’rith, engineer Samuel Kaplan, wrote a report at the request of the Government, known as the Kaplan report, about everything that had happened. We were involved in the AMIA case from the beginning. We always demand justice, all these years, and now what we are doing together with B’nai B’rith Argentina, relatives of the victims and some legal experts in Argentina is to promote the adoption of the trial in absentia in Argentina, so that those accused of having planned and perpetrated this terrible attack can be tried in Argentina, even if they do not appear in court, which we know is something that may never happen, so that at least there is some justice in the case. That is why we have prepared a program about it for this anniversary, with great personalities, not only from Argentina, but from the world, supporting this initiative.
-I suppose they have been inheriting what were the two years of the zoom pandemic in between and this issue will have been part of that modality.
Exactly, we had to do it like this, we did a zoom program. But we have messages from very important people. For example, the former president of the Inter-American Court of Justice, Elizabeth Odio Benito, sent a message supporting the trial in absentia. We had Stuart Eizenstat, advisor to the Biden administration on issues related to the Holocaust, who is a great eminence in everything related to Justice. He wrote a book called “Imperfect Justice”, where he referred to the search for reparations for what was stolen by the Nazis, but it also applies to these situations where justice cannot be obtained completely, and other alternatives must be sought. We had a message from him and from a lot of important personalities, including former Argentine legislators, who presented draft trials in absentia that are unfortunately sleeping in parliament.
Do you interact with the central institutions of Jewish communities in Latin America and in Argentina in particular? Do you get involved in issues such as terrorism in the sense of what we knew in Argentina about the Venezuelan-Iranian plane? Do you get involved in the daily agenda?
Of course it is. We always work with the central organizations, although B’nai B’rith is an independent organization. And of course, we take care of all these issues and work on them. On the subject of international terrorism, alerting all the countries in the region to the danger of Iran’s presence is constant in our work. We have worked hard to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization in many countries. And not only that it is declared, but that other measures be taken to follow up on the issue of the financing of terrorism. Because nothing is gained by just declaring Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the funds must be followed, terrorism must be prevented from being financed in areas such as the triple border. We work on all these issues. And of course, we are very concerned about the Iranian plane and we are following it closely.
How are you seeing Latin America, the communities and its community life?
After all these years working in Latin America, I see that Jewish communities are vibrant, they are very active. Now, with regard to the political situation, we are seeing a sharp shift to the left in the region, which can sometimes be detrimental to Jewish communities, especially when the link between some countries with Israel is recent and this has repercussions on Jewish communities. Many times there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism, which is always latent, but when events occur in the Middle East and governments are not very friendly to Israel, the reactions of governments can have a negative impact on Jewish communities. That’s something that worries us a lot. For example, the situation of anti-Semitism in Chile worries us, and in other parts of the region as well.
Do you have dialogues with the communities of Chile, with the embassy? It is a complex place, with a president who in the passage had expressions that were not friendly to the community and to Israel, added to the largest Palestinian population in the world outside the Middle East.
We work in different ways. We work with governments, with Israeli embassies, with communities. In the case of Chile there is an explosive cocktail, because in Chile there is still an important sector where there is a classic anti-Semitism, from the right, which is still strong. And also this left-wing anti-Semitism, which is closely linked to the large population of Palestinian descent in Chile, which in recent years has become much more proactive and much more aggressive in its approach. Because it goes far beyond criticism of Israel, which is legitimate, and crosses a dangerous line towards anti-Semitism. There is an alliance between some sectors of the extreme left and this Palestinian line. And the Jewish community, on the other hand, is very small in Chile. So the situation is quite worrying.
Are you following these topics hand-to-hand?
Yes, completely, especially in the case of Chile. Recently, we released a report to debate and combat the accusations that Israel is a racist state, an “apartheid” state, and the idea just came from a friend we have in Chile. He was really concerned about the repercussions that the reports of organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, had on Chile. And this gave us the idea of making this report, because we really believe that there is a demonization of the State of Israel. In the same way that Jews were demonized in the past, but it is also very serious because it is being done in the name of human rights. I mention this report because we released the first part recently, and it is now available in Spanish. I think it’s a very valuable tool.
I read about an American congresswoman who made a strong criticism of the “murder” of the journalist from Al Jazeera, totally omitting the Palestinian side. For example, last week a collective was shot and this is not mentioned anywhere. Do you refer to such unbalanced criticisms?
Yes, constantly, because we see it in the press all the time, the bad information. There is no information, propaganda is made against Israel. Many times news agencies simply replicate information that is not correct and is an uphill job, but you have to do it. This demonization is very serious. We were used to seeing it from the United Nations, but now it is everywhere, and we feel that a kind of perfect storm is forming against Israel.
The accusation that it is an “apartheid” state like South Africa is so ridiculous and legally so incorrect, because there is nothing of the definition of “apartheid” that can be applied to Israel. And yet it is constantly repeated and it is something that we have to counteract. All the time we talk about the Palestinian victims, it is taken out of context, and there is no talk of Israeli victims or Israel’s need to defend itself.
After more than 150 years of this institution, what is the message for young people who do not know the B’nai B’rith and for the Jewish leaders of the region.
The message to people in general is that we would love for them to know more about B’nai B’rith and join us. We always need volunteers, people willing to help, and the truth is that it is an organization that not only fights for the well-being and continuity of the Jewish people, but also helps the community at large. It is a very nice way to convey the values of the Jewish people outwards. We would be happy to join members and efforts to continue our mission.