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Momentous Political Changes Seen Creating Growing Uncertainties Among 800,000 Latin America Jews

June 6, 1972
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Jews in Latin America, numbering about 800,000, face a future in which their influence is diminishing while their sense of instability increases as a result of momentous social changes taking place on the sub-continent where cultural pluralism was never a reality. That picture of the situation of Latin American Jewry emerged from a two-day conference on the subject held here over the week-end under the auspices of the Institute of Jewish Affairs, the research body of the World Jewish Congress. The conference, conducted by a panel of scholars and experts from the US and Latin American countries and leaders of Latin American Jewish communities preceded the annual meeting of the WJC’s Governing Council which opened here tonight and will continue through June 9. The meeting, to be attended by delegates from 20 countries, will be the first by the WJC’s top governing body to be held in the US for more than a decade.

The panelists on Latin America agreed that while anti-Semitism exists and is a factor in the life of Latin American Jewish communities, it is the rapid growth of nationalism and the changing economic and social structure that cause the greatest uncertainty among Latin American Jews. Prof. Kalman Silvert, head of the Ibero-American Research Center at New York University, said the increasing national awareness of people in Latin America and the emergence of nation states will break down existing structures. Prof, Anthony Leeds, of the University of Texas, analyzed the impact of social and economic changes on the future of the middle class communities and ethnic, religious and cultural minorities in a basically non-pluralistic society.


Dr. Stephen J. Roth, director of the Institute, said “The main problem for the Jews is how they will fit in a new society that is emerging in Latin America and whether they will be able to continue to maintain their specific Jewish communal life.” He said “The Jewish problem in Latin America therefore has to be seen in the wider developments on the sub-continent and this is the first conference which has attempted to do this.” According to Dr. Natan Lerner of Argentina who is presently associated with Tel Aviv University. “Disorientation is perhaps the mildest name for the state of mind of wide circles of Jews in Latin America.” He noted that the population explosion there will tend to diminish the quantitative significance of the Jewish communities and make their marginality with regard to the majority even more pronounced. There is no immigration of Jews to Latin America and the trend is in fact toward emigration, he said.

Dr. Lerner also noted that “pluralism never became a reality in Latin America and an increase in the cultural nationalism involves an increase in Jewish marginality.” The share of individual Jews in political power and in the intellectual life of the major countries has declined in the past decade, he said.

Dr. Lerner said that violence, which is part and parcel of the Latin American scene today “Is seldom directed against Jews as such, except in the case of the radical right lunatic fringe. But. being a minority sector, Jews are naturally more sensitive and exposed to violence and disorder.” Dr. Isaac Goldenberg, president of the Latin American Jewish Congress, referred to the polarization of left and right in Latin America. On a continent full of danger for everyone, Jews face the special danger of becoming the traditional scapegoat for any of the political trends, he said. Dr. Goldenberg said the anti-Zionist hatred sown by the Arab League among the Arab population in Latin America rep-resented “an added element of danger.”

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