RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Pro-Palestinian protesters injured a university employee while demonstrating against a lecture speaker who heads the Brazilian chapter of a pro-Israel advocacy group.
Andre Lajst, the director of StandWithUs Brazil, was speaking about ways that Israeli technologies could help develop the Amazon region at the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus on Thursday when protesters clashed with security and other university employees outside the lecture auditorium.
According to news reports, the advisor to the university’s rector left the scene with a broken nose after attempting to safeguard her daughter. Several students entering the lecture were also harassed, and police officers escorted Lajst into and out of the venue. One protester was reportedly arrested for pushing a police officer but later released.
“The tight security was commensurate with the widespread slander and slurs about me and about Israel,” Lajst later wrote in a social media post. “The extremism of a minority does not represent the university and the students.”
Protesters called Lajst, a Brazilian-born Jew who served in the Israeli air force from 2011-2013, a “defender of Israel’s apartheid regime.” The Arab-Palestinian Federation of Brazil had written before the event that “the university cannot be a stage to defend an apartheid regime.”
Lajst, a grandson of Polish Holocaust survivors, said the university’s Central Student Directory also called him a “Nazi” on their website.
“There is no worse offense for me,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The Brazilian Israelite Confederation, Brazil’s umbrella Jewish organization, released a statement on the incident, which read: “We repudiate the violence and lament the lack of democratic spirit and civic behavior. Universities must be a place for freedom of expression and pluralism of ideas, and not violence and intolerance.”
Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s northern state of Amazonas with a population of over 2 million, is home to some 200 Jewish families. Brazil is home to a 120,000-strong Jewish community.