The Brazilian foreign ministry last week convened a meeting of the country’s Arab and Jewish representatives in the hopes of reigniting stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota hosted the conference in Brasilia on Tuesday, under the title From Side to Side- The Construction of Peace in the Middle East: A Role for the Diasporas. The 50 local leaders were joined by foreign delegates, including French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf and representatives of the Argentinian Latin American Jewish Congress.
The forum included discussions on bringing young Israelis and Palestinians to the South American country to view the comparative peace in which the Jewish and Arab communities co-exist first hand. It also included workshops on how to stop Middle East tensions from having an impact on local inter-communal relations.
“South America, where Jewish and Arabs have historically lived together (peacefully), can offer aid in achieving a durable path to peace and respect,” said Jack Terpins, President of the Latin American Jewish Congress.
The Latin American Jewish model was also held up as an example at last month Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, where Mexican Jewish professor Judit Liwerant contributed to a panel discussion on Being Jewish in the Diaspora. Talking of the diversity of communal life in the Diaspora, Liwerant said “there are divides and separations where the Jewish world might be seen as both powerful and vulnerable, in the Diaspora and Israel”, adding that the way to approaches such divergences is to pool communal and inter-communal resources and “we build a Jewish life through different centres interacting”.
South America has also been held up as a role model for inter-religious co-existence by the Catholic community, as on a trip to Argentina earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI met with an audience of Latin American Jewish leaders from 12 countries and reportedly paid tribute to the “dynamic Jewish communities (that) exist throughout Latin America, especially in Argentina and Brazil, living alongside a large Catholic majority”.
Terpins similarly heralded the relationship between Latin American Catholics and Jews as “an example not only of positive coexistence but of friendship and cooperation”.
There are approximately 400,000 Jews living across Latin America, with Argentina and Brazil home to the majority of those numbers. Jews and Muslims have a long history in Latin America. There is evidence that Jews and Muslims escaping the Inquisition accompanied Spanish and Portuguese explorers on their voyages of discovery to the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Both communities grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to the large-scale immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe and Muslims from Arab countries and following the threat of rising Islamophobia in the wake of the Twin Towers attack in New York, cultivated increase inter-communal cooperation, which led to representative releasing a joint statement last year committing to building “solid Muslim-Jewish relations in our countries and communities and showing our two peoples and the world that Muslims and Jews can work together fruitfully for the betterment of all, while building ties of friendship and trust”.