The first ceremony for the Shimon Peres Lifetime Awards on behalf of ILAN – the Israel Latin America Network – in partnership with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, was held last week at the Peres Center in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Participating in the ceremony were Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense Alon Schuster; Chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, Chemi Peres; and ILAN founder, leading philanthropist and businessman Isaac Assa, along with diplomats and representatives of countries across Latin and Central America.
“In the coming years, one in three Americans will be of Latin American descent. If we do not mobilize them for Israel, we will lose America."Isaac Assa
During the ceremony, awards were given to key groundbreaking figures with a global reputation who have promoted relations between Israel and Latin America in the areas of health, quality of environment, economy and technology. Among the recipients of the award were:
• Technion Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, who developed the world’s first lab-grown entrecote steak;
• Dr. Amir Kereshonvich, Head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, who together with his wife Hila Kereshonvich, set up a volunteer-led initiative to perform complicated brain surgeries on children from the developing world;
• Mr. Henrique Cymerman, an Israeli journalist of Portuguese-Sephardi descent, who serves as the Middle East correspondent for a number of media outlets and is the president of the Chamber of Commerce between Israel-Jordan and the Persian Gulf States;
• Tato Bigio, founding partner and CEO of UBQ Materials, a start-up for converting household waste into recyclable materials; and
• Ella Castelenus, a new olah (immigrant) from Mexico who founded the site Hola – Land, a platform that connects Latin America and Israel, and is a partner in Cantera Capital, a fund for enterprises in Israel and Mexico.
“Many people tell me that ‘the movements promoting antisemitism and BDS are winning the battle.’ I answer to them that I think our approach is strong." Assa said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post after giving out the award.
"We are focusing too much on those that are against us," he said. "The world has a few billion people – how many of these people know about the Jewish state and the Jewish people? Israelis and Jews sometimes think that Israel is the center of the world, but you will be surprised that not even 10% of the world population know anything about Israel or the Jewish people.”
Assa explained that “in Latin America, we have very small Jewish communities and there are about 700 million people so it isn’t easy to promote Judaism and Israel but I think that in a year’s time we did a pretty good job.”
A Jewish-Mexican-Syrian entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist, Assa is the chairman of Akza Advisors, a company that provides business intelligence strategies for public large-scale projects.
He founded ILAN last year to be a pro-Israeli network for Israel-Latin American relations. The network works to promote and strengthen Israel’s relations with Latin America and the United States through exposing Israeli innovation in the areas of high-tech, health and economics to Latin American countries.
“In the coming years, one in three Americans will be of Latin American descent,” Assa said, “If we do not mobilize them for Israel, we will lose America."
“We established ILAN four years ago, in 2018,” Assa told the Post. "The main purpose of this foundation is to drive the success of the progress of Latinos in Latin America and in the United States, but also different countries such as Paraguay and others.”
He explained that he and his team promote Israel “through a model of Israeli innovation. We believe that Israel is a model for the future of every country, of every society and even of every person because of its tremendous successes.”
Assa said that even though they have similarities to the pro-Israel lobby in the US, it’s not exactly the same thing: “Some people say that ILAN is the AIPAC of Latin America. But ILAN isn’t actually AIPAC. Yes, we’re looking to make strong ties between Israel and Latin America, but in a different way - through innovation.”
Some of the activities of ILAN and its 11 full-time employees are arranging delegations to Israel of heads of large companies or political figures from Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala and Mexico. The delegations visit Israeli tech companies and others focused on innovation.
“I've never brought a member of our delegations to see the borders with Gaza. It's not our focus, since we want to show a different face of Israel; the face of innovation and how innovation made this country flourish,” he said.
“Over the last year, we directly developed unique connections between the State of Israel and Latin American countries,” Assa revealed. “Through ILAN, we formed strategic alliances with a number of branches throughout America, which will strengthen the economic, diplomatic and social resilience of the countries.”
In a few years, the Spanish-speaking population in the United States will increase to 100 million people, he said, so strengthening these connections is a supreme goal in the interest of the states and the peoples. "With the help of the Israeli brain, the innovation and the local courage, we will be able to make ground-breaking international achievements.”
ILAN's long-term goals
“We want to affect how all of the 31 Latin American countries vote about Israel in the UN. Many of these countries vote against Israel and only a very few are in favor of Israel,” Assa claimed, adding that “most of these countries are neutral towards Israel; they abstain. We want to change that reality into something positive; into something that will turn them into more pro-Israel countries.”
One of the speakers at the ILAN event was chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, Chemi Peres, son of the late president Shimon Peres. “Isaac, like my father, I feel so privileged to count you as a dear friend and have you as a partner on this journey to a better future, sharing with you the vision of global cooperation and innovation as the way forward,” he said.