WASHINGTON (Aug. 26)
There is no official anti-Semitism in Nicaragua today but there are strong anti-Israel sentiments because of Israeli policies in Central America which appear to support rightwing dictatorships, according to three members of a recent fact-finding mission to Nicaragua organized by the New Jewish Agenda.
The three members, part of a 10-member delegation, who briefed reporters here last week on their recently concluded mission, said they wanted to investigate whether there is a basis for allegations of anti-Semitism initially raised by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
While the three said they are not in conflict with charges raised by the ADL about anti-Semitism in Nicaragua two years ago, they asserted they differed with the policies of the Reagan Administration which, they claimed, used the charge of anti-Semitism in Nicaragua for its own political purposes.
The assertions made at the press conference were immediately challenged by Rabbi Morton Rosenthal, director of the ADL’s Latin American Affairs Department, and by the Miam-based Jewish Nicaraguan Congregation in Exile.
Rosenthal said he was “disappointed” with the remarks by the three persons who addressed the press conference. He said that “in no way does it reflect the experience of the Nicaraguan Jews … I think they used the Jewish issue as a pretext for going down there and I question to what extent they were serious in doing something for Jews.”
‘MISLEADING’ AND ‘TRAGICALLY IRRELEVANT’
The Jewish Nicaraguan Congregation in Exile said the statement that the Nicaraguan government has no anti-Semitic policy is “not only misleading, but tragically irrelevant.” The exile group, in their statement signed by Kurt Preiss and Fred Luft, president and secretary, respectively, said there is no Jewish community in Nicaragua and that the delegation was hard pressed to find a single Jew with whom to speak.
“The delegation’s experience is eloquent testimony to the fact that it is beside the point whether the Sandinistas have an official policy of anti-Semitism,” the group’s statement said. “The effects of the Sandinistas’ anti-Semitic actions, which began even before they came to power, show that no ‘policy’ is needed to destroy a small Jewish community of less than 60 Jews.”
The three mission members at the news conference were Rabbi Gerald Serotta, chaplain at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a founder of the New Jewish Agenda; David Cohen, president of the Professional’s Coalition for Nuclear Arms Control, Washington, D.C.; and Dr. James Statman, psychologist and a member of the New Jewish Agenda’s Central America Task Force, also of Washington, D.C.
MET WITH LEADING PERSONALITIES
The three said that during their five-day mission, the delegation, which included Rabbi Marshall Meyer, the founding rector of the Central America Rabbinical Assembly in Buenos Aires and a member of President Raul Alfonsin’s Commission on the Disappeared Persons in Argentina, met with leading members of the Sandinista govermment and opposition leaders.
Among those with whom they met, according to the three mission members, were Supreme Court President Dr. Roberto Arguelle, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Nora Astorga, editors and clerics, and members of the Nicaraguan Commission for Human Rights. They also said they met with the 10 remaining Jews in Nicaragua; with American Jews living in that country; and before leaving the U.S. with three expatriate Nicaraguan Jews living in Miami.
Based on their discussions, the group concluded: “We believe that there is no policy of anti-Semitism or bias on the part of any official body. Moreover, it was made abundantly clear to us and confirmed by leaders of the Sandinista government that Nicaragua welcomes Jewish participation as well as participation from any group in the reconstruction of a pluralistic society which seeks friendly relations, based on non-intervention with respect to its neighbors.”
Serotta quoted Sergio Ramirez, a member of Nicaragua’s three-member governing junta, as saying that his government is “open to mutual initiatives” toward re-establishing relations with Israel. Nicaragua broke diplomatic ties with Israel in 1982 over Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
CONTROVERSY OVER CHARGES OF ANTI-SEMITISM
The controversy over charges of anti-Semitism in Nicaragua reached its climax last summer when President Reagan told a White House forum that “virtually the entire Jewish community of Nicaragua has been frightened into exile ….”
Many Jews fled, charging harassment and that their property had been confiscated. The synagogue in Managua was also confiscated and turned into a children’s social club and its walls were plastered with anti-Zionist propaganda. The issue of the synagogue was raised by the ADL with the Nicaraguan government as long ago as 1981. At that time, a leading Nicaraguan official said the issue would be reviewed. Services were last held there in 1978. The Torahs are in safe keeping in Miami.
Serotta told the press conference that Nicaragua has pledged to return the synagogue. He said the remaining Jews there asked him to arrange services for Yom Kippur in October.