Last week the Simja Torah, a Holocaust memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay, was vandalized with phrases taken from books and articles written by Holocaust deniers.
The city’s local government and the mayor immediately ordered the insulting anti-Semitic graffiti to be removed. Representatives of all political parties also condemned the fact that the memorial was vandalized.
Three days after, the memorial was vandalized again.
The political reaction increased. Not only did the mayor order the memorial to be cleaned again immediately, but the Human Rights Commission of the House invited the Jewish leadership to discuss how to confront this new wave of anti-Semitism in the country.
There are two clear points to be watched in this scenario.
The first is that there is no Nazi political party in the country, Nazi propaganda is punished by law, none of the political parties in Uruguay remain silent when there are anti-Semitic attacks and the government has never endorsed anti-Semitism. There is an anti-discrimination law and all of the governments have commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day every Jan. 27, and discrimination, xenophobia, racism in all forms are combated from political parties to academia.
Anti-Semitism is not new in Uruguay. We must remember that the country (politicians, academia and media) has always thought that anti-Semitic attacks were lone actions. Lone or not, a year and a half ago David Fremd, a well known Jewish businessman, was killed by a terrorist who said that he had received “a call from Allah.” This was an anti-Semitic hate crime. Six months ago, during basketball finals between Hebraica y Macabi and another team, there were “songs” against Hebraica during the finals; all sort of aggressions were made on social media; and the most popular radio entertainer in Uruguay (who is Jewish) was brutally insulted because he publicly said he liked Hebraica. During the Gaza war in 2014, Jews were assaulted, insulted and buildings were graffitied with swastikas in Montevideo and other cities.
Those who reject anti-Semitism should show the rejection with much more strength, and political parties must all speak out against it. We must know if all political parties allowed by the democratic system are on board that education is an essential tool to eradicate anti-Semitic hatred.
Academia must show the same. If academia blasts anti-Semitism, we want to see all academia together without exceptions against anti-Semitic attacks.
If the government, political parties and civil societies are together, anti-Semitism may have no future. But if anti-Semites watch that not everybody is on board, then the democratic coexistence is in danger.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
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