WASHINGTON (Jun. 24)
A new report on the fate of Jews under the current regime in Managua maintains that on anti-Semitic campaign by the Sandinistas induced almost all of Nicaragua’s tiny Jewish community to flee the country following the revolution of 1979.
The report was released Tuesday by Prodemca, an organization that has campaigned actively for American aid to the Nicaraguan armed resistance, known as “contras.” Based on more extensive interviews than previous reports, the study represents the most recent round in an ongoing debate here as to whether the Sandinista regime is anti-Semitic.
It also comes a day before Wednesday’s scheduled vote in the House of Representatives on the controversial question of American military aid to the contras. In his efforts to win Congressional approval of the aid, President Reagan himself has made note of the Sandinista regime’s relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the anti-Semitic incidents which are said to have driven the Jewish community from Nicaragua.
But the researchers stressed that the survey has been initiated independently in order to find the truth among the allegations and denials concerning anti-Semitism in Sandinista Nicaragua.
Joshua Muravchik, a writer on human rights and other issues and currently a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said at a press conference that once he had decided to undertake the research Prodemca agreed to sponor it. Susan Alberts, a former staff member of Americans for Democratic Action who conducted all the interviews, stressed that she herself had been open to any findings that the research might have turned up.
Alberts said she had interviewed members of 13 out of the 18 families that constituted what she called “the entire active Jewish population of pre-Sandinista Nicaragua.” She said that attendance at synagogue was a criterion for identifying a Jew as “active.”
The study follows up on a report of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith which found that harassment and threats against the Jewish community had forced the few Jews in Nicaragua to leave the country. Following publication of that report, Rabbi Balfour Brickner of New York led a delegation to Nicaragua and asserted that charges of anti-Semitism were false and that those Jews who left the country had done so for fear of losing their property or because they had enjoyed close ties with the regime of Anastasio Somoza.
But the Prodemca report maintains that except for two, the Jews they interviewed had no ties with Somoza and only had their property confiscated by the Sandinista regime once they were already out of the country. It cites incidents reported by the “exiles” involving abusive and threatening anti-Semitic phone calls by people identifying themselves as Sandinistas, anti-Semitic graffiti and other forms of harassment following the revolution.
Underscoring these threats, the report notes, was the firebombing of the Managua synagogue during Friday night services in December 1978 by men whom some of the worshippers recognized as Sandinistas.
The Sandinista regime has denied charges of anti-Semitism, maintaining its criticism of Israel and Zionism is unrelated to its attitudes toward Jews and pointing out that Jews are even serving in high-ranking positions. But the report maintains that the examples the government has offered represent one of “many efforts by the Sandinistas to manipulate and mislead their American sympathizers.” The regime has noted, for example, that Carlos Tunnermann, the Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S., is a Jew, whereas in actuality the diplomat has some Jewish ancestry but is a professing Catholic, the report observes.
The report maintains that offers by the regime to return the now confiscated synagogue are hollow since there is no longer anyone left in Managua to reclaim it.
It also notes that Mateo Guerrero, who was a top staff member of the government-sponsored Nicaraguan Commission for Human Rights, and has recently defected, said he had been summoned by Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco before the arrival of representatives of the New Jewish Agenda in 1984, and was simply “Instructed to tell them that there had been no persecution of Jews.”
FAMILIES TELL WHY THEY FLED
Of the families interviewed by Alberts in the U.S. and Costa Rica, about half said they had decided to flee after being told that their personal safety might be in danger, while the other half said harassment from the Sandinistas had driven them to leave.
All told, the community has been estimated at 50 at the time of the 1979 revolution. According to the report, the only remaining Jew in Nicaragua is Jaime Levy, an elderly French citizen.
The researchers stressed that their findings were significant regardless of the ongoing debate over aid to the contras.
“Some of those who dismiss the charge of Sandinista anti-Semitism are evidently troubled because it has been used to support aid to the Nicaraguan resistance forces–a policy with which they disagree,” the report observes. “But as Jaime Levy’s son, Gabriel, put it to us from his home in Houston, ‘You can be against what President Reagan is doing in Nicaragua, but that’s no reason to deny the truth about what happened to the Jews’.”
Nevertheless, Penn Kemble, a member of Prodemca’s executive committee, appeared to acknowledge that release of the report was timed to coincide with the latest round of Congressional debate on contra aid.
“It’s a time of great national interest in Nicaragua and our policy in Nicaragua, sure. So that’d a great time to release the report in order to get it public attention,” Kemble told the JTA.