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At a special symposium organized by B’nai B’rith and the Combat AntiSemitism Movement in Washington, D.C., experts provided an assessment of the rise in anti-Semitism in Latin America and of Iran’s influence there. Read about the event at the Organization of American States headquarters, in Moment Magazine.

Read in Moment Magazine.

All eyes are on the geopolitical hot zone created by Iran’s direct attack on Israel Saturday, during which some 300 ballistic missiles and drones were launched at and intercepted by Israel with help from the United States and others. Questions abound regarding what actions either state may take next. But there is another aspect to the attacks and counterattacks in this part of the Middle East, which is how Iran foments antisemitism elsewhere—including in far-away Latin America.

As tensions grew last week over Iran’s looming strike against the Jewish state, anticipated as retaliation for Israel’s April 1 bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed two IRGC generals and five officers, an invite-only event was held at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. Organized by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) and B’nai B’rith International, the symposium offered a sober assessment of the rise in antisemitism in Latin America and of Iran’s—and its proxy Hezbollah’s—influence there.

“After the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7, there has been an explosion of antisemitism in Latin America,” said Rep. Maria Salazar of Florida, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. In her prepared remarks, she noted that after the war in Gaza started, Colombia, Honduras and Chile recalled their ambassadors from Israel; Bolivia cut diplomatic ties with the Jewish state; and in Brazil, antisemitic incidents skyrocketed “1000 percent.” Salazar called out Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva specifically for remarks he made in February comparing Israel’s campaign in Gaza to Adolf Hitler’s killing of Jews.

In his remarks, Dr. Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute spoke of Hezbollah surveilling both synagogues and the Israeli embassy in Brazil and the terrorist group’s presence in other South American countries such as Venezuela. “Hezbollah plots make no distinction between Israel and Jews,” he said.

One especially notable area of concern in Latin America is what’s known as the Triple Frontier, the tri-border area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Catalan journalist Pilar Rahola (above, middle) described it as a nexus for drug traffickers, arms dealers and Islamic terror groups supported by Iran, including Hezbollah. Days after October 7, The Buenos Aires Times reported that “members of Hezbollah and Hamas operating from the Triple Frontier have joined drug dealing clans to fund their attack missions in Israel and targets in the rest of the world.” Calling Latin America “virgin territory for imperialist interests,” Rahola said that an attack there by Iran, in response to Israel’s activities, is likely. “No one is preparing for this,” she warned.

She and another speaker, Aaron Keyak of the U.S. State Department (he’s the deputy envoy, under Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, to monitor and combat antisemitism), referenced the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that killed 85 people and injured more than 300. After close to 30 years, numerous theories have circulated about who was responsible and why, and the accused suspects have never been tried. Coincidentally, on the same day as the OAS event, April 11, Argentina’s highest criminal court ruled the bombing a crime against humanity and found Iran responsible for planning the attack and Hezbollah for carrying it out. As reported by AP, the court held that the deadly hit on the Jewish community center, known as the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, was retaliation against Argentina for backing out of nuclear cooperation agreements with Iran in the 1980s. 

“Malicious actors including Iran and its proxies continue to weaponize antisemitism to advance their aims,” Keyak said in his remarks at the Organization of American States.

The event was also held to honor the secretary general of the OAS, H.E. Luis Almagro (above, second from left). He was presented with the Global Leadership Award by the Combat Antisemitism Movement in recognition of his “commitment to combating antisemitism, extremism, and hatred across the Americas.”

Almagro has been in the position since 2015. Born in Uruguay in 1963, he got his law degree before joining the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry. In his two-plus decades there he represented his country in Iran, Germany and China. In 2019, as the head of the OAS, he oversaw the adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and in 2021 created the position OAS Commissioner to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. 

Standing under a dramatic grouping of 34 tall flags, representing the 34 member states of the OAS, Almagro expressed his concern about autocratic regimes in Latin America with ties to Iran and its proxies. He pressed the idea, which had been voiced by many of those who spoke before him, that antisemitism corrodes democracy and that combating antisemitism is about protecting both democracy and human rights.

“Hate speech reawakens phantoms,” Secretary General Almagro said through an interpreter, noting that such speech is often disguised as attacks against the State of Israel and must be condemned to the necessary extent. “Spread the words you heard today.”