A high point of this year's Policy Forum was the Aug. 31 dinner at the Hebrew Club, where attendees dined with President Juan Carlos Varela, who was officially addressing the Panamanian Jewish community for the first time.
The president took to the podium and thanked B'nai B'rith for bringing the Policy Forum to Panama and that it was a great honor to host it, with this being only the second time the meeting has left the United States. Varela said he was impressed by the longevity of the organization and the work B'nai B'rith has done for 171 years. He conveyed respect for B'nai B'rith's commitment to human rights and said Panamanians share B'nai B'rith's principles of respect and tolerance. Varela also affirmed his country's support for the State of Israel and its right to defend itself. He offered Panama's support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the region.
B'nai B'rith had the privilege of being joined by Julio Maria Sanguinetti, a former president of Uruguay. Sanguinetti discussed the issues and "evils" pervading the world today and the diametrically opposed worldviews between the West and the radical Islamist influence that is not only a force in the Middle East, but in Latin America as well. Sanguinetti spoke on globalization and the consumer and knowledge based society in which we live, and how the fundamentalist Islamic movement isn't just a clash of ideas against the West, it's a clash of civilizations.
Sanguinetti compared this ongoing "clash of civilizations" to the Cold War, where any friend of the United States or the Western World was an enemy of the Soviet Union. He noted we're seeing something similar with some governments of Latin America attacking Israel and recalling their foreign delegations.
Sanguinetti reaffirmed that Western ideals of "freedom, schooling and capitalism" are worth standing up for, but said it will be difficult for societies and governments to face these new threats because people would rather ignore it and carry on with their lives.
"It's a mix of fear, a mix of desire, not wanting to see," Sanguinetti said. "It's like people who don't want to go to the doctor for fear of bad news. That happens with societies too."
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