Special to the JTA Israel Strengthens Its Relations with Latin America

Within the last month Aba Gefen, director of the Department of Cultural and Scientific Exchange of the Foreign Ministry of Israel, has signed cultural and scientific agreements with eight Central and South American countries. Israel has had bilateral exchange agreements with most of Latin America for years; however, few of the called-for conditions have been implemented.

Perceiving the inroads that Arab propaganda and economic pressure have made with traditional friends of Israel during the past year, the Israel government felt that the expansion of intercultural agreements would be a strong step forward towards reversing these trends, Gefen amplified this view when he said that “If you succeed in creating a positive image of Israel it can help you in a situation when political relations are difficult.” especially because “in my field the contact is with the people, not the regime.”

With this aim in mind, Gefen, a veteran of 25 years of service with the Foreign Ministry, left Israel on Jan. 18 for the first leg of his Latin American trip. He arrived in Mexico City two days after the major American Jewish organizations lifted their boycott of Mexico in reaction to its vote in the United Nations for the resolution labeling Zionism a form of racism. For this reason, the arrival of a high Israeli official was greeted with a large amount of publicity.

At Gefen’s press conference at the airport a Mexican reporter asked, “is Israel a Zionist country?” “Of course,” Gefen replied. “Is Zionism a form of racism?” “Certainly not, that’s ridiculous” “Then why have you come to Mexico which two months ago voted for the resolution labeling Zionism as a racist movement?” “Because nothing should or could destroy the long term friendship between our countries.” Gefen declared.

Popular reaction to his remarks, carried by most Mexican papers, radio and television stations, was extremely favorable. In the atmosphere of goodwill that had been created, Gefen was shortly thereafter able to conclude a new cultural agreement, including an implementation schedule, with his Mexican counterparts.

ELEMENTS OF ACCORD WITH ECUADOR

From there he travelled to the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and finally Ecuador. In each one of these countries a cultural agreement and exchange program was initialed that covers the next two-three year period. The document signed on Feb. 23 with the Director-General of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is similar in content to those signed with the preceding seven nations. It is divided into three main parts, education, science and technology, and culture.

In the area of education, Israel and Ecuador will increase contact and exchange between their respective institutions by:

Promoting each nations language and culture at the university level.

Establishing a chair in the Hebrew language at the University of Quito. In exchange, Israel will provide a scholarship each year for a postgraduate student to continue studying in Israel.

Exchanging of textbooks to ensure that each country will realistically portray the other’s society, history and culture.

Relations between Israeli and Ecuadorian scientific institutions will be developed by: the reciprocal exchange of one professor to meet in conference, transmit information and give seminars for up to 14 days; holding joint symposiums; providing the opportunity for young scientists to meet their Israeli counterparts; and having an Ecuadorian expert, in a field of interest to the government, come to Israel for up to 21 days per year for consultations.

Both Israel and Ecuador will assist in the diffusion of each other’s culture by:

Exchanges in the fields of music, theater and dance. Each country will participate in the international conferences, congresses and festivals of the other.

Translating and publishing books, exchanging basic reference materials and sponsoring visits of groups of young people and sports teams.

Cooperation between radio and television authorities.

Journalistic visits back and forth with the purpose of better understanding the affairs of the other nation.

Setting up a joint working group to prepare a study of the Jewish community in Ecuador.

Upon the completion of his mission in Ecuador, Gefen summed up his trip by saying “We are interested in cultural and scientific exchanges because we believe in the growth of common international relations.”

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