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Focus on Issues Israel-latin American Ties Still Firm

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The withdrawal of II Latin American embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in recent weeks, in reaction to the Jerusalem law, has been a grievous blow to Israel. But, in the view of Avraham Argov, a leading expert on Israel-South American relations, it does not necessarily presage a general worsening or even weakening in the close ties that bind Israel with many of the Latin American countries.

Argov, who is director of the Latin American section in the World Zionist Organization, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview that he hoped and expected that the damage would be restricted to the embassy moves and would not spread to other areas of the relationships.

Basically, he stressed, pro-Israel sentiments were still very strong in South and Central America, both among the governments of the continent and among the peoples. “The man in the street in most Latin American countries supports Israel,” Argov said.

Himself an immigrant from Latin America, Argov has several times revisited the continent. His next trip will be this fall, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he is to help organize a conference of Jewish and Zionist leaders from all over the continent. The conference, from Nov. 9-13, will be a major watershed in Latin American Jewish affairs. Organized jointly by the WZO and the World Jewish Congress, it will be addressed by Leon Dulzin, chairman of the WZO and Jewish Agency Executives, and by Edgar Bronfman, acting president of the WJC.

Argov ascribes the embassy moves to political pressure, rather than merely direct oil threats. He points out that two of the countries involved, Venezuela and Ecuador, produce their own oil and are therefore not susceptible to oil blackmail Rather, the Arabs successfully mounted a campaign of political pressure using the Jerusalem law as its pretext.

CITES TRADITIONALLY GOOD RELATIONS

Citing the bases of traditionally good relations between Israel and Latin American states, Argov noted particularly the international cooperation programs with many of the smaller countries. Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica are among those that benefit the most from Israeli projects. The aid is conducted through three main channels inside Israel: the Mt. Carmel Institute, the Histodrut’s Institute for Development Aid, and the Hebrew University’s agriculture faculty at Rehovot which specializes in overseas aid courses.

In addition, there are Israeli experts in such fields as irrigation, cooperative economy, agriculture, youth movements and water planning serving in a number of Latin American countries.

Argov also underscores a common experience of, and reaction to, terrorism as a factor tending to strengthen political understanding between Israel and some of the Latin American governments. Some of the Latin American terrorist organizations actually have proven links with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

This factor is true mainly of the right-wing military regimes in the southern part of the continent. It is a fact, perhaps sad but true, that in the more northerly states that have a more democratic political system Israel finds itself sometimes under attack from left-wing parties that tend to sympathize more with PLO and general Palestinian aspirations.

PRAISES ACTIONS OF JEWISH COMMUNITIES

The actions of Jewish communities in several of the Latin American countries to the Jerusalem episode has been noteworthy, says Argov, especially in view of the difficult political situations and constraints in some of those countries.

In Uruguay, for instance, the community invited former Premier Yitzhak Rabin on a visit to Argentina, to address a public gathering, and 4000 persons (the community numbers 45,000) turned out to hear him. The gathering was an impressive public display of solidarity with Israel and with Israel’s stand on Jerusalem.

In Chile, the presidents of the Jewish community and of the local Zionist Federation met with President Augusto Pinochet in an effort to dissuade him from moving the embassy — or at least to persuade him to minimize the damage to Israeli-Chile relations. (Chile’s 28,000 Jews and the country’s sizeable Arab community traditionally try to avoid the Israel-Arab conflict in the Middle East from morning intercommunal relations within the country.)

In Central America, the “Fedeco,” an umbrella group embracing the Jewish communities of all six states, held its biennial session in Costa Rica at the height of the crisis over the Jerusalem law. The two guests of honor were Costa Rica’s President Rodrigo Carozo and Gen. (res.) Uzi Narkiss, the “liberator of Jerusalem.” (Fedeco has formally applied for membership in the World Zionist Organization. It represents an estimated 8000 Jews in these six countries.)

In other countries, Jewish reactions have been less visible, but in several of them local Zionist Federation have been active in lobbying politically Israel and seeking to contain the effects of the embassy moves.

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