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“I could not be absent. It is very important to remember this date,” Palestinian Authority envoy to Brazil Ibrahim Alzeben declared at the event in Brasilia, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The ambassadors of Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine also attended. The majority of Brazil’s 120,000-strong Jewish community, which is mostly Ashkenazi, has origins in these countries.
The United Nations designated January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day in the spring, during the week before Independence Day. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was reportedly traveling abroad and was absent for the Brasilia event for the third year in a row.
“By keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, we alert the present and future generations about the moral abyss we face when prejudice becomes the rule and intolerance becomes the practice,” Rousseff said in a statement read by Civil House Minister Jacques Wagner, who is Jewish.
Special homage was paid to Ben Abraham and Aleksander Laks, the former presidents of the Brazilian Holocaust Survivors Associations in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, who both died in 2015. In an ecumenical moment, a teenage member of an Afro-Brazilian religion who made headlines after she was stoned last year, lit one of the candles representing the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
“Only a few decades after the Holocaust, the old anti-Semitism has been updated as anti-Zionism: the denial of the Jews’ right to have their State of Israel. In Brazil, we are still fortunate to be far from radicalism and violent actions,” said Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization.
There has been no Israeli ambassador in Brasilia since December due to a diplomatic flap over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nomination of Dani Dayan, a former West Bank settler leader, to the post. Brazil has declined to approve Dayan's appointment due to his involvement in the settlement movement.
With reporting by Haaretz.