B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs Speaks to World Zionist Organization Conference on Anti-Semitism
B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn spoke at the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) Latin American Conference on Anti-Semitism in Santiago, Chile. The conference was held from Sept. 6 to Sept. 8.
Kohn delivered a presentation on “Anti-Semitism in Latin America and the Contexts Around It.” Some 150 Jewish professional and lay leaders from around the region also participated, including leaders affiliated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The conference was convened by WZO Vice President Yaakov Hagoel, who arrived from Israel to host the event.
B’nai B’rith International remembers the 23rd anniversary of the Israeli Embassy bombing in Buenos Aires. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who drove a truck loaded with explosives into the corner of the embassy on the afternoon of March 17, 1992. The terrorist detonated the bombs and killed 29 people, injured 242 and also destroyed a church and a school.
Until the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building was bombed in 1994, it was the deadliest terror attack in South America. In the tragedy at the AMIA building, 85 people died and 300 people were injured. Iran has long been linked to both bombings, but none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
Iranian involvement and alleged Argentinian complicity in the cover-up in the AMIA attack has been recently reinserted into the public consciousness. The suspicious death of Argentine Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman has sparked outrage among Argentinians and created a demand for answers. Nisman died shortly after he filed a complaint against Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman alleging they offered Iran impunity before jointly creating the “Commission of Truth,” designed to find those responsible for the attack.
“While we await more answers on Alberto Nisman’s death and the Argentine government’s actual role within the ‘Commission of Truth,’ we cannot forget where and when Iran’s savagery in South America began: at the Israeli Embassy on March 17, 1992. And B’nai B’rith will not forget that,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said.
The attacks on the embassy and on the AMIA building have been credited to Iran’s terror arm Hezbollah, making the news of Iran and Argentina’s creation of the “Commission of Truth” in January 2013 and the allegations of the president and foreign minister shielding Tehran from punishment all the more shocking.
“B’nai B’rith has followed Nisman’s investigation into the AMIA bombing over the years and we have strongly supported his efforts. We hoped that if he uncovered the truth behind AMIA, the perpetrators behind the embassy bombing may be brought closer to justice,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “Iran, through Hezbollah, has carried out global terror attacks for decades. Tehran needs to be held accountable. His death creates a gaping void in the pursuit of terrorists.”
NYC Snowstorm Forces Postponement of U.S. Event
Every year on January 27 the world recognizes United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Day, a date selected marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation and B’nai B’rith International was active throughout Latin America, commemorating this important day.
In Uruguay an exhibit on Anne Frank was created and inaugurated in Montevideo’s city hall, the capital and the country’s largest city. Uruguayan President José Mujica attended the event, addressing the audience and the entire nation in a speech broadcast on radio and television. Mujica’s remarks focused on the evils of the Shoah and the atrocities of genocide. Meanwhile, the General Assembly of Uruguay held a solemn session in which representatives of all parties addressed the legislature in commemoration of the Holocaust. B’nai B’rith, the overall Jewish community and the Ministry of Education also hosted an academic event titled “70 Years After Auschwitz was Closed” at Montevideo city hall.
With all the tensions swirling within Argentina following the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman—the man responsible for investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building that killed 85 and wounded 300—Holocaust Remembrance Day in Buenos Aires was extremely emotional. Typically the commemoration ceremony is organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice and the Undersecretary of Human Rights, but amid the questions surrounding Nisman’s death all Jewish organizations declined to attend. B’nai B’rith has formally declined an invitation for the past two years following Argentina’s signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding” with Iran, an agreement which purports to investigate the terror attack.
Instead, a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony was held at the AMIA building. The commemoration was a crowded, emotional scene as Holocaust survivors were present and the AMIA president spoke on behalf of the Jewish organizations present. B’nai B’rith Argentina President Mario Wilhelm lit the fourth candle on the menorah on behalf of partisans and Jewish fighters who died while resisting the Nazis.
B’nai B’rith sponsored a Holocaust Remembrance Day program in Santiago, Chile as well, where it was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with ministers, ambassadors, civilian, religious and military authorities, survivors and their families in attendance.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz addressed the audience, highlighting the government’s commitment to protecting minorities in Chile and the urgent need to reject all types of discrimination pervasive in society.
Executive Vice President of the National Institute of Human Rights and winner of the Light and Memory Award Lorena Fries also spoke, as did B’nai B’rith Chile President Emma Finkelstein.
In her remarks, Finkelstein discussed the main threats to Israel, Jews around the world and to Chile. She acknowledged the success of the Anti-Discrimination Act that was enacted last year, but regretted the fact that anti-Semitism was not explicitly included as a means of discrimination. Finkelstein also called for a bill seeking to establish hate speech as a crime and for the Holocaust to be included in the official curriculum of the Ministry of Education.
“On behalf of the Jewish community and as president of B’nai B’rith Chile,” Finkelstein said, “we know it is our obligation to raise our voice and condemn these actions that we hope will not be accepted by the international community. We owe it to the dead but, above all, we owe it to the living, to our children as well as to your children.”
In Brazil two ceremonies were held, including an interreligious ceremony with Christians and Muslims at the Congregação Israelita Paulista in São Paulo. The second ceremony was hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs at the Itamaraty Palace with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in attendance.
Unfortunately, a snow storm in New York City forced the postponement of B’nai B’rith International’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day program at the United Nations. This year’s program was to focus on Arturo Toscanini, one of the most renowned orchestral maestros of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Tuscanini was a staunch anti-fascist who publicly took a hard-line stance against the oppression and racism of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and supported the establishment of the orchestra now known as the Israel Philharmonic in 1936 in solidarity with young Jewish musicians escaping Nazi persecution. The B’nai B’rith program was to be held in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations. The event will be rescheduled.
B’nai B’rith remembers Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which took place in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. At least 96 Jews were killed, more than 1,000 synagogues were set on fire, nearly 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, and countless community centers, libraries and homes were attacked, looted and destroyed during the explosion of terror. About 30,000 Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Throughout November, B’nai B’rith Argentina, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Uruguay, Cuba, Chile and Paraguay held remembrance programs marking the anniversary.
For 20 years B’nai B’rith Argentina has organized Kristallnacht commemoration ceremonies in cooperation with the Ecumenical Commission of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and, this year, the Lamroth Hakol community. The B’nai B’rith-sponsored, interreligious ceremony was held at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Buenos Aires Archbishop Mario Poli and Rabbi Fabián Skornik presiding over the program. Skornik discussed his participation in the Holocaust event “March for Life” around Europe, visiting many death and concentration camps. The most poignant and saddening sight for him, he told the audience, were the thousands of shoes without children. Poli stated the need to learn to accept pluralism and diversity in society for the sake of truth and justice.
> Check out our Facebook album with pictures from Argentina, Costa Rica and Uruguay
The moving program was organized by former B’nai B’rith Argentina President and current Director of the Interfaith Dialogue Commission Boris Kalnicki. The Argentina Hebrew Society chorus performed for attendees and candles of the menorah were lit by survivors, as well as Jewish and Catholic children. The event was strongly attended with ambassadors of Israel, Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Austria and the Vatican participating in the ceremony, while Jewish community leaders, Argentine politicians, and members of various congregation and churches filled the crowd.
B’nai B’rith Costa Rica held a Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony at the synagogue of Centro Israelita Sionista, the largest Jewish communal institution in Costa Rica. More than 600 people attended, including members of the legislature, judges, ambassadors from different countries and the Archbishop of San José, José Rafael Quirós. The theme of the program was “The control of the media by dictatorships” with keynote speaker Eduardo Ulibarri, the 20-year director of the Costa Rican newspaper La Nación and the country’s current permanent representative to the United Nations.
In Venezuela, B’nai B’rith held three important events from October into November. The first was an Oct. 30 ceremony honoring the work of Jan Karski, a Polish underground fighter in World War II who reported valuable information to the Allies on the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi death camps. The ceremony was held jointly with the Polish embassy in Caracas. On Nov. 10 a Kristallnacht commemoration was held at the B’nai B’rith building in Caracas with more than 300 people in attendance. The following evening B’nai B’rith hosted a forum on human rights issues both past and present with Argentine judge Daniel Rafecas—an expert on the Shoah and international law—and Universidad Metropolitana (UNIMET) professor Maria Teresa Belandria sitting on the panel.
B’nai B’rith Uruguay hosted Vice President Danilo Astori, former presidents, political leaders, congressmen and diplomats at a Kristallnacht ceremony on Nov. 13 that was broadcast live by seven television stations. The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Archbishop of Montevideo Daniel Sturla.
In Cuba, the Maimonides Lodge held a remembrance ceremony with more than 150 people in attendance. The president of the Hebrew community in Cuba Adela Dworin came to the ceremony, as did many leadership and staff members of other Jewish organizations in Havana. Those present were serenaded by the Shofar Jewish Community Choir and the keynote speaker was B’nai B’rith Cuba President Samuel Zagovalov.
B’nai B’rith Chile organized a ceremony on Nov. 9 at a Lutheran church in Santiago. The event was co-sponsored by the International Council of Christians and Jews.
B’nai B’rith Paraguay hosted a ceremony Nov. 18 with former Uruguayan foreign minister and former United Nations General Assembly President Didier Opertti serving as the keynote speaker.
“Every year our brothers and sisters in Latin America show a strong commitment to remembering Kristallnacht, which marks the descent into genocide against the Jewish people,” B’nai B’rith President Allan J. Jacobs and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said in a statement. “Continuing this tradition of commemorating the Night of Broken Glass and including more and more members of the community at-large is the only way to ensure the events of those brutal days are not forgotten.”