Jewish Agency looks to bolster ties in Argentina

Zionist organization holds first parlay outside Israel in decades; aims to strengthen Jewish identity, fight anti-Semitism.

Jewish Agency meeting in Buenos Aires 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jewish Agency meeting in Buenos Aires 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
BUENOS AIRES – Since the establishment of Israel the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) has held its annual meetings in the country, but for the first time in decades the Zionist group’s top brass has gathered overseas for its Board of Governors which kicks off here on Monday.
”We’ve decided to hold our annual conference in the Diaspora once a year,” said JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky in a hotel lobby where Jewish delegates from around the country and the world had gathered. “We’ve decided to have our first in Argentina because it has a large Jewish community with excellent ties to Israel. It’s a regular Board of Governors with the regular decisions that it makes only in between we’ll be visiting the Jewish community and meeting with local leaders.”
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The Israeli delegation for the three-day gathering includes Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America, the Maccabi sports movement and other groups. During their stay visitors will tour the city's Jewish institutions and meet Argentinean government officials including Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, the first member of the Jewish community to hold that position.
There are about 200,000 Jews in Argentina constituting the largest Jewish community in Latin America. Earlier this year a study commissioned by Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, the country's Jewish umbrella group, and the Anti-Defamation League pointed at a vein of anti-Semitism in Argentinean society. According to the study, a large percentage of Argentineans believed Jews are greedy and would rather not live next door to them.
“We thought things like that would be over after the Holocaust,” World Zionist Organization Chairman Avraham Duvdevani on Sunday told an elderly crowd of Argentinean Jews at a hotel in the affluent neighborhood of Recoleta. “But we’ve seen that the world never learns and that once again we are facing anti-Semitism."
But young Argentinean adults who attended the event and stayed mostly outside the hall where Duvdevani and others spoke said they did not feel under siege by an anti-Semitism similar to that which was common during the Holocaust era. 
“There is some anti-Semitism coming from Venezuela but you don’t feel any anti-Semitism on the streets,” said Uri Levit, a 19-year-old student and member of a Jewish youth group. “Perhaps there are bigoted people but it’s mostly just ignorance and bad education. It’s not a widespread phenomenon that I feel on a daily basis.”
Prof. Benny Schneid, the head of WZO’s chapter in Argentina, ranked anti-Semitism a distant second in the list of issues posing a danger to the Jewish community in the country.
“Anti-Semitism is a problem,” he said, “but to my mind the bigger one is assimilation.”