By NATHAN GUTTMAN
WASHINGTON - A Jewish outreach group is trying to engage Hispanic lawmakers to work with South American governments in order to prevent them from supporting Hamas.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, has met in recent weeks with Hispanic members of Congress and discussed with them the favorable way in which certain Latin-American governments view Hamas.
"It is only natural for us as Jews to turn to our Latino and Hispanic friends to work together," Schneier said, adding that the reaction he heard from the lawmakers concerning Hamas was "very receptive."
Following Hamas's victory in January's Palestinian elections, South American media reported that Hamas leaders would be invited to visit Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. These visits have not yet materialized and Venezuela has denied the reports.
Schneier raised the Hamas issue in a meeting several weeks ago with lawmakers from ethnic minority groups on Capitol Hill. He said that the Hamas issue was a challenge for the American Hispanic community and that if countries in South America adopted a positive approach toward Hamas, it could have a negative effect on the relationship between the Jewish and Hispanic communities in the US.
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, led by Schneier and Russell Simmons, one of America's leading hip-hop producers, works to build bridges between American ethnic groups, and stresses the need for the American Jewish community to react to the country's shifting demographics.
According to Schneier, these demographic changes will also have an effect on the way pro-Israel lobbying is being carried out in Washington. While 20 years ago there were only 21 black members of Congress, now there are 44. The number of Latino lawmakers has also doubled in two decades, and that of Asian-Americans has tripled.
"When we talk about the Congress being pro-Israeli, we must also recognize the fact that in 20 years this will be a totally different Congress," said Schneier. "We need to work harder to sensitize this new leadership to the issues of Israel and the Jewish community."
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