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'Israel losing battle for minds in Latin America'
By GIL SHEFLER
22/06/2011
Communal Jewish leader at WJC say "Homegrown advocacy initiatives in the region require Israeli gov’t support."
 
Israel runs the risk of losing the battle for public opinion in Latin America if it doesn’t devote more resources to its advocacy efforts there, Jewish officials from that part of the world warned at the World Jewish Congress, which drew to a close on Tuesday.

In a series of informal discussions on the sidelines of the gathering, delegates from several countries in the region discussed what can be done to stem the spate of diplomatic debacles suffered by Israel recently in which countries like Brazil and Argentina have ignored Israeli requests and recognized Palestinian statehood.

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“This is a different kind of battle, one of the mind, and we are losing it,” said Robert Croitorescu, president of the Confederacion Latinoamericana Macabi, the Latin American branch of the global Jewish sporting organization, in conversation with his colleagues.

“I wish that the authorities in Israel would give more resources to fight it.”

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Croitorescu later expanded on what he meant and explained how he is personally involved in efforts to try and tackle the issue.

“We don’t do strong advocacy work there and we are not involved enough. That is why we started our program called Hatsad Hahsheni [‘the other side’ in Hebrew],” Croitorescu said. “For the past three years we have invited young Jewish students and leaders to seminars in 13 countries throughout Latin America preparing them to debate.”

So far, over 1,000 people have taken part in the seminars which educate participants about Israel and the Middle East, Croitorescu said. Members of the growing evangelical community in Latin America, many of whom are supportive of Israel, will also begin to take part in the seminars.

“If a small percent of them act as ambassadors for Israel then we will have made a difference,” he said.

Israel is often seen through the lens of local politics in Latin America.

Left-leaning groups tend to side with the Palestinians because Israel is considered close to their ideological enemy, the US.

Still, Croitorescu isn’t willing to give up on the continent.

“It is not a lost cause,” he said. “Latin America does not accept racism and that is why anti-Semitism has never been strong there. Our mission is to raise doubt in the minds of those who are against Israel’s right to exist.”

Nowhere is Israel’s situation in Latin America as dire as it is in Croitorescu’s own native Venezuela, where the government has severed ties with the Jewish State and promoted a line of public rhetoric against it which has been construed as anti-Semitic.

“In Venezuela we have state-sponsored anti- Semitism and anti-Israeliness,” he lamented. “Our state media lets Arab speakers talk but does not allow us to respond.” Over the past decade the number of Jews in Venezuela has plummeted from 22,000 to around 10,000.

The biggest cause for this decrease has been the atmosphere created by the government, Croitorescu said.

“The economic situation is bad but this is not why they’re leaving,” Croitorsecu said. “They are leaving because the Venezuelan government does not differentiate between Jews and Israelis.”
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