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.
Did Islamic terrorists ask permission to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and to bomb the AMIA in 1994? No. Neutrality only opens doors for insanity.
In January of this year, before the massacre in Belgium but after the terrorist attacks in France in 2015, a major daily in Uruguay interviewed French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to Uruguay in Montevideo.
“Of course Uruguay is not outside terrorist threats. It would be very wrong to think that way or to think that any country can be free of such a threat,” Itte said. “Terrorists have no borders and their message is the same all over the world. You can´t live thinking 24 hours a day that there will be a terrorist attack, but if you compare 20 years ago, you must admit that there is no place on earth free from terrorist threats and attacks.”
Itte didn’t realize that this was basically a premonition.
15 years ago, Uruguay approved an anti-discriminatory law to combat hatred and anti-Semitism, defending the society against hate crimes. This was not a response to terrorism at the time but there were strong signs of intolerance and the approval of the law was essential.
On March 8 of this year, incitement progressed to murder, hate crimes and terrorism.
David Fremd, an extraordinary, devoted Jewish community leader in Paysandu, a city 400 kilometers from Montevideo, was stabbed to death. The killer admitted this was because he was Jewish.
Abdullah Omar, 35 years old, a school teacher, converted to Islam 10 years ago. His original name is Omar Peralta. He told the judge before being sentenced that he received “a call from Allah” to kill a Jew, so he went to the shop where he knew a prominent Jew worked and stabbed him.
Latin America is surrounded by incitement. From social media to the awful language used in political discussions in the media to the Uruguayan Congress, etc. We can watch it through the lens of the frenzied, radical left, which separates the world into good people and bad people, and blames Israel for all the evils on earth.
More from Eduardo Kohn:
During last war in the Gaza Strip in 2014, then-President of Uruguay Jose Mujica took part in the incitement, saying that Israel was “genocidal.”
In a blink of an eye, anti-Semitism rose like flames of a great fire and graffiti with the phrase, “Get out Jews from Uruguay” were painted in roads, streets, avenues and walls. Once incitement comes out, it does not go back.
The signs of hatred are out there. There are laws to fight discrimination and cyber harassment. But waiting for turmoil is not prevention as requested by the law.
Now that hate crimes and terrorism have taken place in Latin America, there have been some positive reactions.
The Uruguayan government, through its President Tabare Vazquez who took office a year ago, has promised that the administration will use its tools to combat all sorts of racism and discrimination at all levels.
But let´s be clear. Neither the state nor the civil society alone will be able to heal these deep wounds separately. The work must be done together.
Is it possible? We all hope so. Except for the ALBA countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela), democracy prevails.
In this fight to defend democracy, it’s not simply the future that is at stake. It is also the present.
In an op-ed for The Algemeiner, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin that Iran President Hassan Rouhani is on a victory lap following the lifting of sanctions and that Tehran’s friends in Latin America will be sure to bask in the glow.Mariaschin details which Latin American countries will continue to support the regime in Iran, and why even though we’re often transfixed on the chaos of the Middle East it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening south of our border.
Click here to read the op-ed on The Algemeiner's website.
The sight of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani now globetrotting his way to world capitals on what he surely sees as a victory lap after signing the nuclear agreement is yet another reminder of how quickly the Tehran regime is being rehabilitated.
He’s not yet made his way to Latin America, but he may yet do so: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have been staunch friends of Iran over the years. Surely those countries will want to bask in Tehran’s newfound diplomatic luster and supp at the trough of its economic promise, now that most sanctions have been lifted.
Iran’s penetration of Latin America goes back more than 20 years. The bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, and the attack on the AMIA social welfare building in 1994, which killed more than 80 people, can be laid at the doorstep of Iranian operatives and their terrorist proxies, Hezbollah.
With the coming to power of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Iran ratcheted up its operations in the hemisphere, including the infamous Tehran-Caracas IranAir flight, which symbolized the close ties the two regimes established. Fellow travelers Bolivia and Ecuador — part of the South American anti-West club — soon joined eagerly, surely benefiting from Tehran’s “walking around” largesse, used to expand its influence in the region.
Indeed, Venezuela has fallen further into an economic abyss under Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, making more likely Caracas will become even more indebted (and not just financially) to the Iranians.
The result has been not only an Iranian friendship circle, but a bloc of countries pledged to anti-Israel rhetoric and activity at the United Nations and other multilateral fora.
A recent report in London’s Al-Awsat Arabic newspaper speaks of Hezbollah cells operating in at least five countries in the hemisphere, which comes as no surprise. Similar reports have been cropping up over the now nearly 25 years since the terrorist acts in Buenos Aires.
Against this backdrop of Iranian activity in our backyard, there is some encouraging news. The new government in Argentina, led by Mauricio Macri has rolled back a “memorandum of understanding” between the previous Argentine government and Iran, the purpose of which was to bury the longtime investigation into the AMIA bombing — and with it Tehran’s clear fingerprints — and its terrorist presence in that country. It has also given new impetus to an investigation into the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, the chief Argentine prosecutor in the case — and who was on the verge of disclosing details that may have incriminated Argentine government operatives, as well as the Iranians.
As a result, Argentine-Israeli relations are expected to vastly improve. That may also be the case in Uruguay, which now holds a UN Security Council seat, and whose previous government was often seen as sympathetic to Palestinian and radical positions on a wide range of issues. Uruguay’s new (and former) President Tabare Vazquez did post-doctoral work at the Weizmann Institute years ago, and takes a much more open-minded view of Middle East issues than his predecessor.
And then there is Paraguay. For years, the locus of one third of the infamous tri-border area (together with Brazil and Argentina), a lawless center for smuggling and hospitable to radical elements, the country is led by a president, Horacio Cartes, who has taken principled stands — at odds with his neighbors — including votes at the United Nations relating to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Our attention is often so riveted on the concentric circles of chaos, terrorism and violence in the Middle East and North Africa, we sometimes lose sight of what transpires south of our border. For more than two decades now, Iran has seen our neighborhood as a target of opportunity, and has cultivated it with impunity: terrorist bombings for which it has never paid a price, flattering the likes of Chavez and his circle for strategic gain and creating cells of agents moving about from here to who-knows-where.
Now out-and-about that they are free of official international opprobrium, the ties they have created in Latin America bear special scrutiny. Rather than having to work largely out of the public eye, they can do so now to a large extent above board. Look for “official visits” of Rouhani and others to our hemisphere, in short order. Ignoring this threat, like so many others that characterize the regime in Tehran, would be at our peril.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Analysis From Our Experts
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: