Arzenu

International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists

CHAZIT MITKADEMET REPORT

JUNE 2009

Common elements and diversity of experiences! This apparently contradictory situation is a characteristic of the Latin American Jewish Communities. In common, Jews of Latin American had never to fight for their emancipation. In this continent, freedom and equality were granted, although national societies had to deal with “otherness” as a legitimate component of their community.

Latin America background

It is important to remind the capital role of the Latin American countries in the adoption of the November 29, 1947 Resolution. The two thirds of affirmative votes needed for the approval of the resolution by the General Assembly, would never be reached without the strategic maneuvers leaded by its President, the Brazilian Oswaldo Aranha.

The approval of the Resolution was guaranteed by the substantial block of the Latin-American countries. Among the 33 affirmative votes requested, 13 were from States of the region: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Equator, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela contributed with their decisive votes.

However in recent years the governments of many Latin-America countries have shown a strong pattern of turning towards the left. In many cases, they become in fact populist regimes in need of someone to blame for their internal problems. As a consequence, Jews have witnessed profound changes in the way they are perceived and accepted in the national arena.

The Arab and Iranian presence

Figures provided by experts estimate that more than seven million Arabs arrived in Latin American and Caribbean countries after 1970. Along with those of other generations that have been integrated into the region, they would be nowadays about 20 million. Of these, 15 million live in Brazil and about more than one million in Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

Iran’s influence within the Latin American nations started in 1982, since its relationship with Cuba. Over the years Iran opened embassies in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia. Reports of several sources mention the Iranian intervention in the terrorist attacks against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires (1992) and against the building of AMIA (1994).

he most worrisome for both Israel and the Western world lies in the possibility that Venezuela and Bolivia supply the uranium requested for the Iran’s nuclear project. Another report shows the existence of Hezbollah cells in north of Venezuela, in the Isla Margarita and in the triple border region in the limits of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. After Ahmadinejad’s taking of power in Iran, he has been promoting aggressive policy increasing substantially the presence in the region.

Consequences of Israel’s offensive against Hamas

The recent Israeli military offensive against Hamas in Gaza Strip had a direct impact on relations between Israel and Latin America and also affected negatively, in some cases, the Jewish community life facing new anti-Semitic outbreaks. The Palestinian struggle got a disproportionate popularity, not so much for supporting the Palestinian people, but for being an anti-Israeli cause.

Public demonstrations against Israel were held throughout the countries, comparing refugee’s camps to Auschwitz and stating that Israel used Nazi methods to combat Palestinian terrorism. This emphasis is not observed in relation to any other conflict in the world, therefore there is no doubt that this criticism is nothing but pure anti-Semitism.

These accusations prompted exacerbate prejudice, hatred and desire to attack Israel through harassing local Jews, increasing significantly the violence and abuse to Jews, physical assaults, desecration of cemeteries and synagogues, graffiti on Jewish properties, as well as editorials, newspaper articles and cartoons.

Brazil’s situation

It is imperious to recognize that Brazil has always maintained balanced positions regarding the conflict between Israel and Arab countries in the Middle East. Since the partition of Palestine in 1947, when Brazil was among the first states to recognize Israel and exercised great influence on its recognition, the country maintained balanced positions, mainly in respect of the Brazilian large Arab and Jewish communities, which live in harmony and are an important example of peaceful relations.

President Lula’s Government wishes to contribute to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, according to basic principles of foreign policy and national values. And its main message to the region is to reach a peaceful coexistence. In this sense, Brazil’s interest in closer relations with Arab countries led President Lula to the creation of the summits of South America Arab Countries. In parallel, Mercosul signed its first treaty of free trade outside of South America, with Israel.

The relationship of the Jewish Community with the Brazilian Government continues being held in a climate of full cooperation. The authorities are very responsive to our public agenda, especially regarding the issues related to the activities of neo-Nazi groups, indictment of the Holocaust deniers, seizing of defamatory publications, interrupting the diffusion of hatred through Internet, religious education in the public schools and communal security.

As a strong example, last mid-May, after a long investigation with the cooperation of Interpol and FBI, the Federal Police discovered an important network of dangerous neo-Nazi cells in three important Brazilian states, arresting more than 50 people and seizing books, pamphlets and propaganda materials and discovered plans to perpetrate attacks to synagogues and Jewish institutions.

President Lula has given proofs of great sensitivity to the issues related to the local Jewish Community and the preoccupation of not importing the middle-East conflict to Brazil. Since January 2007, President Lula has been participating, in Rio and Sao Paulo, of the Holocaust Victims Day instituted by UN. (See picture below).

Photo: Ricardo Stuckert/PR for CONIB

An other example is the statement condemning racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, racial discrimination and other forms of related intolerance, signed on 16 December in Costa do Sauipe (Bra.), by the presidents of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.

The internal pressure

Even though these demonstrations are a strong proof of the support of the Brazilian authorities, we are also sure that they occurred because of the pressure of the Jewish leadership and the Jewish communication organs (press and Internet). The Brazilian Government lives a political contradiction between his support to our community and the demands of members of the Workers Party (founded by Lula) who are mainly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.

During the conflict in Gaza, the leaders of the Workers Party issued a violent statement against Israel, using all the anti-Zionist clichés. A few days later, Jewish ministers and distinguished members of the Workers Party published a statement condemning the previous one and stressing their support to Israel and their position against judeophoby.

There is a lot to be done in order to abrogate the anti-Israeli lobby and improve the relations with the Congress. The same must be done within the labor and student unions, academic communities, journalists, artists and intellectuals. Especially keeping in mind that 2010 will be an electoral year, when beyond the President will be chosen 27 state governors and the members of the Congress.

Zionism in Brazil

Zionism continues being deeply rooted in the Brazilian Jewish life, though the institutional apparatus represented by Brazilian Zionist Federation is completely exhausted and without any capability to implement the minimum spectrum of activities supposed to be held. The lack of a political arena jeopardizes any initiative to carry out the due actions that could assure the nurturing and empowerment of its constituency and enlarging the membership.

On last December representatives of Zionist Parties Movements and International Organizations affiliated to WZO convened in Sao Paulo by initiative of the Department of Zionist Activities with the aim to discuss the prospects of a Renewal process of the Brazil Zionist Federation.

The participants decided unanimously to apply their best efforts in order to promoting the rebuild of the Zionist movement in the country, according to constructive basis exempted of any unproductive partidary idiosyncrasies that gave origin to the present unsatisfactory situation - the Brazil Zionist Federation is, since 2007, considered by the WZO a non functioning body.

The main results of this meeting was a formal compromise of financial and technical support from the Department of Zionist Activities and the constitution of a steering committee charged to carry out the first steps of this renewal process. One of these steps was a meeting of its coordinator with the head of the Department last January in Jerusalem.

The outcome of this Jerusalem meeting was not very positive. In fact, face the budgetary shortage, the WZO could not supply the necessary financial support required by the start up of the BZF renewal process. As a consequence everything remains in an unsatisfactory stand by situation, tempered by moderate expectations of a possibility of breakthrough during the Vaad Hapoel.

CHAZIT MITKADEMET and 22 years of actions

Last Shavuot, Chazit Mitkademet reached 22 years of existence. During all these years, the movement had the opportunity to accomplish its basic mission: increase the awareness of the Progressive Judaism in Brazil, strengthen the bonds between the liberal congregations of South America, IMPJ, WUPJ, IRAC and other Progressive Institutions around the World; and advance the crucial questions related to religious pluralism.

Chazit Mitkademet has a sit in the steering committee described above. Despite all constraints, the Brazilian branch of ARZENU has a strong commitment to achieving the implementation of the BZF renewal process based on new paradigms.

In the meantime, Chazit Mitkademet joins the Israel advocacy actions network in order to reply the anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist attacks and to reestablish the truth of the facts in relation to the Operation Cast Lead. It also must be mentioned the participation in the demonstrations against the visit of President Ahmadinejad to Brazil. (See picture below)

Photo: Carlos Vieira for Alef

Chazit Mitkademet was represented in the Reform Zionism Seminar, held on last December in Israel, by a young adult – Gabriel Rajsfus – and a university student – Fernando Beer Frenkel, both from Rio de Janeiro.

They came back home highly motivated. The cultural background acquired will increase the quality of the work to be carried out in order to increasing the awareness of the movement within the Progressive Congregations around the country.

The program planed for the current year of 2009 will pursue three lines of action: Information and Educational activities, Advancement of the BZF Renewal Process and Participation in the 36th Zionist Congress, as follows:

♦ Basic information and educational activities aiming the cultural enrichment and motivation of the Chazit Mitkademet potential constituency

- Launching of the Chazit Mitkademet Website;

- Organization of multigenerational chavurot;

- Organization of a web seminar envisaging the integration of chavurot created in the several Progressive Congregations in Brazil;

- Programming, if the economic situation will permit, a Mission to Israel possibly on February 2010.

♦ Advancing of the renewal process of the Brazil Zionist Federation, as a strategic pre-condition that will guaranty the presence of delegates from Brazil in the 36th Zionist Congress.

♦ Planning of the first steps toward the 36th Zionist Congress.

Therefore, as stressed on the past reports, the existence of a political arena - an active Zionist Federation - constitutes the crucial condition that will permit the implementation of the actions that will assure the nurturing and empowerment of Chazit Mitkademet’s constituency and the consequent membership increasing.

Conclusion

As a conclusion, a message of hope.

Hope that the Israel Government decides to increase its attention to the relationship with the Latin American countries, which will impact positively in the future of the Jewish Communities of the region.

This hope is grounded on three recent Israeli decisions: the presence of Vice Foreign Minister in the General Assembly of the Organization of American States - OAS held in Honduras; the visit of the Foreign Affairs Minister to Argentina and Brazil scheduled to next July; and the reopening of the Israeli Consulate in Sao Paulo closed in 2002 when Israel decided to shut many representations around the world.

Hope that the recently created WUPJ Latin America Executive Board will incorporate a new generation of activists with more ideological profiles and explicit commitment to the Reform Zionism. Latin America cannot be considered as a homogenous block. Efforts are still required in order to create new paradigms that could articulate the spectrum of the Progressive Judaism goals and interests in the region.

Hope that this achievement may lead to the awareness of the changes required for the improvement of our communities and the cultural empowerment of their members.

Hope that Israel can live in peace and continue to being a light among the nations and an inspiration to all generations.

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