The leader of the largest regional organization in the Americans announced on Tuesday that it will appoint an official to combat rising antisemitism across Latin America.
Addressing a virtual conference organized by the American Jewish Committee, Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro said that he was issuing an executive order to appoint a commissioner for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism whose primary responsibilities would be to “promote adoption and implementation by all countries in the region of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism” and raise awareness of the issue of anti-Jewish bigotry.
The OAS, which is comprised of 33 countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean as well as the United States and Canada, adopted the non-legally binding definition in 2019. In Latin America, it has already been adopted by Argentina, Guatemala and Uruguay.
While the definition has largely enjoyed broad support, the accompanying examples, which reference Israel, have generated significant opposition in some quarters, with different groups promoting alternate definitions, most notably the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.
"We are confident that our hemisphere needs to be adequately prepared to face the growing threats of antisemitism in the same way that many other nations and democratic international bodies have done so,” Almagro declared, adding that the OAS had requested to join IHRA and was working on producing a handbook on how to make use of its definition.
"Antisemitism has had traumatic and violent dimensions in our region,” he said, referencing a 1992 attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, the bombing of a Jewish center in the city two years later and other incidents. "All are clear examples of threats not just against Jewish communities, but against the society to which they belong,” he added.
“We are witnessing antisemitic campaigns in many places trying to delegitimize Israel and calling for its disappearance,” he continued, only weeks after the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which was accompanied by a global spike in antisemitic incidents.
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“I want to say it loud and clear – calling for the disappearance of the State of Israel is an act of terrorism and is plain, simple antisemitism.”
Kathrin Meyer, IHRA Secretary General, told Haaretz on Wednsday that the organization commended the creation of an OAS Commissioner for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism.
"International political coordination is imperative to counter the worrying rise in antisemitism, particularly in light of the antisemitic violence and hate speech that has taken place in response to the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East," she said.
"While freedoms of speech and protest are essential pillars of all democracies, nothing can justify hate speech. The IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism is a crucial tool for identifying and tackling antisemitism in all its forms and we continue to work with experts and policymakers across our 34 Member Countries to fight this threat.”
"I think it is a great development," former US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism Ira Forman told Haaretz on Wednesday.
"Antisemitism is rising not just in the United States and Canada but in nearly every country in the Western Hemisphere. This type of appointment is really necessary if we are going to mobilize resources to push back against the spread of this disease."
On May 17, Almagro’s office issued a statement describing Hamas as a terrorist organization and accused the armed group of “sowing terror among innocent populations, be they Israeli or Palestinian.”
The new OAS position appears similar to that of the US State Department’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating antisemitism and the European Commission’s Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.
Following last month’s uptick in antisemitic attacks, Jewish groups in the US renewed calls for the Biden administration to nominate someone to replace former envoy Elan Carr, who left office in January.