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Behind the Headlines Anti-semitism in Latin America

September 17, 1982
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A “wave of violent anti-Semitism” has been sweeping across a number of countries in Latin America these past two months. But the Israeli Foreign Ministry and its embassies, and the official Jewish organizations in the affected countries, are deliberately seeking to play down and hush up the spate of incidents.

This, in essence, is the burden of a dramatic report front-paged in the Labor-affiliated newspaper Davar this week by its respected Washington correspondent, Yosef Priel. He wrote this report after a tour of Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.

There was no official reaction in Jerusalem to Priel’s allegations. But privately one Foreign Ministry official observed that neither Premier Menachem Begin nor Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir were the kind of Israeli leaders who would deliberately hush up outbreaks of anti-Semitism.


Writing about Mexico, Priel pointed out that the Mexican Jewish community, which numbers some 50,000, “lives today in fear. Against the backdrop of the war in Lebanon and the difficult economic situation in Mexico, anti-Semitic incitement has arisen, fanned in part by the media.

“Anti-Semitic slogans have been plastered on synagogues and cemeteries, and appear at some key crossroads. Threats have been made against the lives of individual Jews and bomb-threats have been received by Jewish institutions. (According to one version a bomb was actually found on one occasion.)”

Priel said that Mexican Jewry has decided on two immediate steps: youth are being trained in unarmed self-defense techniques, and professional guards have been hired for Jewish institutions.

“An advice has been circulated to all the Jews at the upcoming (High Holy Days) festivals only those specifically interested in praying should attend the synagogue services — without wives and children — so as to avoid large gatherings that could serve as targets for attack.”

Most of the press, Priel wrote, published a statement by intellectuals and left-wingers decrying “Nazi-Zionism” in Lebanon and the “Palestinian holocaust.” Jewish representatives try their best to counter these canards, but “the Israel Embassy does not particularly speak out against the anti-Semitic manifestation, for fear of prejudicing the important ties between the two countries,” Priel stated. Meanwhile, many of the Jews “are sitting on suitcases in case the situation worsens,” he added. “They would move out to the U.S.”


Writing about the situation in Venezuela, where there are some 20,000 Jews, Priel described a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents: stones thrown at synagogues, a swastika painted on the Chief Rabbi’s car, graffiti such as “Jewish murderers” on the streets.

The worst incident, he said, took place three weeks ago when 20 young people broke into an official building which houses the Israel Embassy and plastered the walls with anti-Israel slogans. Here, too, Priel wrote, the press plays a leading role in the incitement to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments. He cited a cartoon in Montevideo’s leading daily, El Nacional, showing Hitler saluting and shouting, “Viva Israel.”

The Israel Embassy and the local Jewish community are more active here than in Mexico in combatting this phenomenon, “but here, too, there is trepidation as the High Holy Days approach,” Priel wrote.


In Colombia there is “a small but very rich Jewish community” of some 7,000 persons, he said. In Bogota, the capital, the authorities have kept any latent anti-Semitism under control. But a pro-PLO demonstration in the oil town of Barranquilla turned ugly, with cries of “death to the Jews.”

The local Jewish community was thoroughly frightened, too frightened to meet with the Israeli Ambassador for fear of further unpleasantness, Priel wrote. “But at the insistence of the Ambassador, the meeting took place,” he reported. “The Ambassador also protested to the government about the anti-Semitic outburst in Barranquilla.”

Priel said Israeli diplomats and Jewish officials in these three countries told him the situation was much the same throughout the continent. PLO sympathy plus Arab money and influence, plus a worsening economic situation, have combined to sharply increase anti-Semitism in Latin America, he wrote.

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