Anti-Semitism and Political Trends in Latin America on the Agenda as B'nai B'rith Leaders Meet in Brazil
B’nai B’rith leaders from throughout Latin America gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, August 19-21, to discuss several issues affecting the Jewish communities in Latin America. One of the top issues on the agenda was the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents across the region.“This growing anti-Semitism is a troubling trend that we have to do all we can to end,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick, who addressed the conference. “The increase in anti-Semitic attacks is not a surprise in a nation such as Venezuela, where anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments are fueled by the government. But in Brazil, in Argentina, in Chile, and beyond, there is a strong and growing anti-Israel sentiment that permeates academia, media, and politics. We need to concentrate on education to change attitudes.”
At the opening session, Porto Alegre Mayor Jose Fortunati welcomed B’nai B’rith leaders and confirmed that a new law for the state of Rio Grande do Sul will soon pass mandating Holocaust education in every school as part of the regular curriculum.
Too often, anti-Semitism is disguised as criticism of Israel. It’s a disturbing phenomenon that serves to delegitimize the Jewish state.
“In recent years, we detected in Latin America a strong wave of new anti-Semitism,” Pablo Grinstein, president of B’nai B’rith Latin America, said. “This is the old prejudice against Jews, but under the cover of so-called anti-Zionism, or anti-Israelism. Lies, ignorance, and the demonization that in the past were applied to Jews as individuals, now is directed at the State of Israel. It is very important that we combat this anti-Semitism by consistent and persistent actions—forums, presentations, and lectures to non-Jewish organizations are powerful tools.”
In Chile, a recent wave of anti-Semitic acts has surprised the Jewish community, said Julio Froimovich, a long-time B’nai B’rith Latin America leader who is from Chile. In recent months, the walls of several Jewish buildings in Temuco and Concepcion were vandalized, as was the Hebrew Institute of Santiago.
Perhaps the most serious case of anti-Semitism occurred when Gabriel Zaliaznik, president of the Jewish Community of Chile, received a death threat against his 9-year-old son. Shots were also fired at the car of the Israeli ambassador in Chile.
Froimovich notes that in response to these incidents, lawmakers from both parties backed a bill to criminalize the promotion of hatred.
A panel discussion on anti-Semitism in Latin America was led by Professor Gustavo Perednik, a lecturer and writer from Argentina who now lives in Israel, and B’nai B’rith Director of Latin America Affairs Eduardo Kohn. The panel looked at how poverty, insecurity, and lack of freedom of expression could be fueling increasing anti-Semitic events in the region.
It is understood that only a small portion of Latin Americans are truly anti-Semitic. But unfortunately, some of the most vocal have prominent positions that help amplify their destructive views. “We are working within our countries in awareness programs that stress the fact that these hate campaigns undermine the democracies and civil rights of all Latin Americans.” Denis Herrnstadt, vice president, B’nai B’rith Latin America, said.
Other issues discussed in the conference included the political situation in Latin America and what it means for the Jewish communities, Jewish continuity, the situation in the Middle East, and priorities of the Jewish world today.