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Political, Economic Events in Latin America Cause for Concern Among Jews

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The return of Juan Peron to Argentina, and increasing economic and political instability in Chile among other events in Latin America, are arousing uncertainty and even fear among the 800,000 Jews on that continent, the American Jewish Committee’s National Executive Council was told yesterday. The Council was also informed that extensive assimilation and intermarriage and a widespread absence of Jewish education, posed threats to the very existence of Latin American Jewry.

Dr. Seymour P. Lachman, director of the Committee’s Foreign Affairs Department, reported to the Council, the agency’s top policy-making body, at its annual meeting here, on the basis of his just-concluded three-week trip to Latin America. He pointed out that some of Peron’s supporters had been making openly anti-Semitic remarks, and that despite official disclaimers the Jewish community remained apprehensive. The former President, now 77, has the largest single political following in Argentina and there is much speculation about his intentions.

In contrast to Jews in Argentina, Chilean Jews are under economic rather than political stress, Dr. Lachman said. “President Allende is systematically attempting to crush the middle class, to which the overwhelming majority of Chile’s remaining 25,000 Jews belong. The situation of the Jews, therefore, is very insecure. Most Jews have already made arrangements to leave Chile, if and when necessary. Many will go to Israel, others to Spain, West Germany and the United States. Yet, if the economic pressures can be alleviated, they would prefer to remain,” he said. According to Dr. Lachman, “There is a small pocket of anti-Israel sentiment among Chile’s left wing, and anti-Semitism among the extreme right wing. But this problem is overshadowed by the economic-situation.”

SITUATION BETTER IN BRAZIL, MEXICO

Dr. Lachman stated that there has always been a much higher degree of latent anti-Semitism in Argentina than in Chile, and recently there have been a number of overt anti-Semitic acts, including the appearance of swastikas on the walls in many public places and the bombing of synagogues. The presence of Arab League offices in Santiago and Buenos Aires, Dr. Lachman said, has been a source of embarrassment to both Allende and Gen. Alejandro A. Lanusse, the leader of the military Junta in Argentina. Both have sought to be even-handed and to consider the interests of all their citizens, and the Arab League’s anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda are considered unwelcome manifestations of the Middle East conflict.

But the internal situation in the Argentine Jewish community is critical, Dr. Lachman said. “There are only 13 rabbis for the country’s 550,000 Jews, massive assimilation and intermarriage, and little Jewish leadership. There are few Jewish community self-help, religious, cultural, or voluntary agencies. There are some Jewish educators but few male students, and only 12 percent of Argentine Jewish youth have any kind of Jewish education.”

In Brazil, Dr. Lachman reported, the booming economy makes for a better situation for Brazilian Jews. “In fact, they feel that if the situation arises, they will serve as a haven for their Jewish brethren in other Latin American countries. The government is pro-middle class, and most Brazilian Jews belong to that class,” he said. But, as in Argentina, there is considerable assimilation. “There is one yeshiva in Brazil, but it is largely ineffective and does not ordain rabbis. There are 65,000 Jews in Sao Paulo and 50,000 in Rio de Janeiro, but none of the Jewish communities are expected to remain viable in the absence of a drastic change in their structure,” Dr, Lachman said.

He observed that Mexico’s proximity to the United States and the generally positive attitude of its government have created a better situation for the Jews, although some Mexican newspapers recently have printed articles asking “Are the Jews Mexicans or Just Jews?” These articles apparently were inspired by demonstrations for Soviet Jewry and the Munich Massacre, Dr. Lachman said. Nevertheless, Jewish institutions are functioning and give evidence of further growth in the future.

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