RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — The governor of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state apologized to the Jewish community for welcoming a Muslim clergyman accused of having ties with Hezbollah.
Gov. Marcio Franca welcomed Sheikh Bilal Mohsen Wehbe as part of a Lebanese delegation visiting the state government headquarters on April 17. On Saturday, Veja magazine’s online edition revealed that the meeting took place and that the shkeikh “is the main name of the terrorist group Hezbollah in South America.”
A day later, the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation released a statement condemning the meeting.
“Unfortunately, Gov. Marcio Franca and his team ignored the organization’s links to smuggling and drug trafficking in the Triple Frontier region between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, as well as its radical stance calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, and gave legitimacy to a group recognized as terrorist by countless democratic countries,” the statement said, referring to Hezbollah.
Franca apologized to Jewish officials that he welcomed on Monday, including the president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization. During the meeting organized by Congressman Floriano Pesaro, who is Jewish, the governor said he was not familiar with the names in the Lebanese delegation and admitted that “the check may have been flawed.”
The Jewish officials invited Franca to attend the next ceremony in memory of the victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which was attributed to Hezbollah and Iran. The attack killed 85 and wounded hundreds.
“Lebanese-born and naturalized Brazilian, Wehbe took on this role after Mohsen Rabbani was forced to flee from Argentina accused of having been the architect of the AMIA attack,” Veja wrote.
The federation criticized the fact that “the highest authority of our state” welcomed the sheikh, who appears on a U.S. government watchlist of terrorists.
“As Brazilian Jews, we are obliged to alert, demand and always support the legally constituted authorities in the national territory, so that they remain truly alert in such situations and do not give shelter to those who find terror as a unique form of expression,” the federation statement said.
Sao Paulo is Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state, including some 60,000 Jews, mostly concentrated in the capital city, also called Sao Paulo.