Cablegate: Jewish Social Programs, Concerns with Arab-South America Summit Highlight Ambassador's Outreach in Sao Paulo

Published: Wed 9 Mar 2005 07:07 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/04/2015
REF: A. BRASILIA 574 B. BRASILIA 564 C. 02 BRASILIA 4581 Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN DANILOVICH, Reasons 1.4 (b & d)
1. (C) Introduction and Summary: During a two-day visit to Sao Paulo to meet that city's Jewish leadership, Ambassador witnessed the community's highly effective social welfare programs and delivered messages of support for the commonality of ties between the U.S., Israel, and Brazil's Jewish community. A key issue on the minds of interlocutors was the Arab-South America Summit, and the Ambassador received an in-depth perspective on it from B'nai Brith do Brasil President Abraham Goldstein and the Chief Rabbi of Sao Paulo's largest synagogue, Rabbi Henry Sobel. (Other Jewish leaders gave opinions about the Summit during the Ambassador's two day visit; their views are well reflected by Goldstein and Sobel.) Goldstein and Sobel believed the Summit, particularly with the currently flawed draft Summit Declaration, will have a negative impact on Brazilian citizens of both Jewish and Arab origins. While relations between Brazilian Jews and Arabs, they affirmed, remain close, the Summit, both feared, could become a catalyst for latent anti-Semitism in Brazil. Jewish leadership in Sao Paulo recognize USG efforts to prevent the Summit from doing harm to the Mideast peace process and will do what they can to assist. Meanwhile, there is a feeling the GOB may be handling its Summit negotiations through the prism of its own UNSC ambitions. Goldstein asked that President Bush and Secretary Rice convey the concerns of the Jewish community to SIPDIS President Lula and Foreign Minister Amorim. The Ambassador assured his interlocutors that this was already being done. End Summary
2. (U) Over the course of two intense days, the Ambassador engaged with leaders of Sao Paulo's Jewish community and volunteer organizations and witnessed first hand the impact of the community's extensive social welfare efforts for both Jew and non-Jew. (For more on Jewish social NGOs, see ref C.) At Albert Einstein Hospital, arguably Latin America's premier clinical and medical research facility, the Ambassador observed the success of targeted philanthropic support to create an outstanding institution for which all Brazilians can be proud. Before Sao Paulo's leading Jewish luminaries at Hebraica, the largest Jewish club in the world, the Ambassador described the commonality of interests between the United States, Israel, and Sao Paulo's Jewish community. His visit culminated with the delivery of the Sabbath evening sermon at Sao Paulo's largest synagogue, Congregacao Israelita Paulista, using the 140th anniversary of President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address to expound in Lincoln's own words on emancipation and redemption of a divided nation -- a timely theme not lost on the congregants. Throughout his two-day visit, the Ambassador was received warmly and graciously.
PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE ---------------------
3. (U) Beginning with a visit to one of "Ten Yad's" (literally "helping hand" in Hebrew) soup kitchens during a busy lunch hour, the Ambassador received an intense introduction to the Sao Paulo Jewish community's extensive volunteerism. Executive Director Rabbi David Weitman and Coordinator Terezinha Davidovich explained that Ten Yad operated 11 social service programs geared primarily to Sao Paulo's impoverished elderly and children. In addition to soup kitchens, providing over 2000 lunches daily, Ten Yad also runs a "meals on wheels" for almost 200 sick and elderly shut-ins, a weekly "dairy kit" delivery service to supplement family diets, a distribution service for "cestas basicas" for poor families, and child care centers throughout the city. Despite capacity constraints at its current facilities, Rabbi Weitman explained that Ten Yad continues to grow and attract new volunteers.
4. (U) From Ten Yad the Ambassador visited a day care and academic enrichment center run by Unibes (Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita de Bem-Estar Social). Begun early in the Twentieth Century to assist Jewish immigrants, Unibes President Dora Bremmer explained how the volunteer-run organization has transformed itself to meet Brazil's current social needs, including creches and education programs, health care clinics, and a day program for mentally handicapped adults and the elderly poor. Virtually all clients, she noted, are non-Jewish. One of the most interesting aspects of the Unibes tour was a vocational training program for preparing youth for employment within Sao Paulo's hotel sector. Both the Ten Yad and Unibes visits received extensive coverage from Sao Paulo's Jewish press.
COMMUNITY FEARS ARAB-S.A. SUMMIT WILL HARM JEWISH INTERESTS --------------------------------------------- --------------
5. (C) Throughout the two-day visit, interlocutors expressed fears about the upcoming Arab-South America Summit to be held in Brasilia May 9-11. In order to receive a focused explanation of the community's concerns with the Summit, the Ambassador met with B'nai Brith do Brasil President Dr. Abraham Goldstein and Rabbi Henry Sobel, Chief Rabbi of the Congregacao Israelita Paulista. Their views reflected closely those of other Jewish leaders. Both men were well-informed as to the Summit's current state of play and deplored the direction apparently being taken by the GOB. In their view, GOB efforts to date reflected the government's highly biased approach in favor of the Arabs. Rabbi Sobel went further, adding that President Lula was no friend of Israel or the Jewish people. Because of this attitude, Sobel argued that Brazil was not an ideal candidate for a permanent seat on the UNSC.
B'NAI BRITH SEES RISING ANTI-SEMITISM -------------------------------------
6. (C) Despite generally cordial ties among Brazil's diverse religious and ethnic groups, the B'nai Brith President saw evidence that anti-Semitism in Brazil was on the rise. Goldstein specifically cited the situation for Jews on Brazilian campuses where Jewish students face worsening anti-Israel peer pressure and slanderous anti-Jewish comments. An important contributing factor to the anti-Semitic behavior, both Goldstein and Sobel believe, is the pro-Palestinian attitude of the Lula administration and the ruling PT party. Sobel described Lula himself as anti-Semitic -- an attitude, Sobel felt, held by Lula even before he was a successful candidate for president. Sobel explained that Lula's anti-Semitism was masked behind a facade of anti-Zionism and pointedly noted that this was in clear contrast to Catholic Church doctrine that advocacy of anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic views, both men asserted, also existed within senior leadership of the Ministry of External Relations (MRE), and Sobel specifically cited MRE Secretary General Samuel Guimaraes. While B'nai Brith International is following the situation closely, Goldstein does not believe the time is yet ripe for a big public splash on this topic, for example an op-ed piece in the mainstream Brazilian press.
7. (C) According to Goldstein, Jewish members of Lula's inner circle, Press Secretary Andre Singer and Secretary for Economic and Social Development Jacques Wagner, had recently attempted to smooth over any misunderstanding between Lula's PT-led government and Jewish leadership over Foreign Minister Amorim's recent Mideast trip. However, the attempted rapprochement by Wagner and Singer, Goldstein pointed out, failed to hide the Lula administration's negative attitude towards the Israeli Government. Regarding Amorim's snub of Israel during his Middle East trip, Dr. Goldstein belittled GOB excuses that there was no time during the eight nation trip to stop in Jerusalem and agreed that the last minute GOB decision to allow Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Olmert to meet President Lula on March 8 appeared to be in reaction to the negative blowback from Amorim's trip. (Amorim is in Africa this week and will not meet Olmert.) Skeptical that an Amorim visit to Israel would occur in June/July as promised by the GOB, Goldstein added that a planned visit to Israel by Commerce Minister Furlan might also be delayed until 2006.
PREPARING FOR THE SUMMIT ------------------------
8. (C) Goldstein explained that B'nai Brith is working off a plan of action in the lead-up to the Summit. B'nai Brith is seeking to organize all relevant Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress and many within the American Jewish community, to react vocally to the Summit. It is also reaching out to Brazilian allies, the Catholic Church, and even to the Arab and Lebanese Christian communities to promote inter-religious harmony in the face of possible negative rhetoric. The President of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops said he would issue a statement of support by the end of April. Although one key purpose of the Summit is the promotion of Arab-South American commercial ties, Goldstein belittled this aspect of the Summit and pointed specifically to a continued Arab boycott, particularly by Saudi Arabia, against Jewish-owned Brazilian enterprises. This is the type of issue, he said, that should be addressed by the GOB in its deliberations with the Arabs. During the Olmert visit, B'nai Brith also intends to deliver a positive three part message to the GOB: excellent business opportunities exist with Israel and should be expanded, poverty can be reduced with Israel's technological help, and Brazil can serve as a reference point for how diverse communities can live together in peace. Meanwhile, Goldstein believes Israel itself has to do more lobbying with the GOB and not automatically assume Brazil is a lost cause.
9. (C) Reflecting on a possible Brazil press campaign, Goldstein said that while the editor of "O Estado de Sao Paulo" promised "positive" editorials, other mainstream newspapers are perceived to have a pro-Palestinian tilt and are not likely be very helpful. He discarded media outlets that are consistently against the government and discounted the effectiveness of having luminaries from the previous government, such as former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Foreign Minister Celso Lafer (himself Jewish), write articles against the current administration. Getting the anti-Lula PSDB to oppose the government was "too obvious," Goldstein commented. B'nai Brith would continue to try to identify those in the Brazilian press who might make positive editorials, and had the added benefit of not being Jewish. Goldstein remarked about the paucity of press about the Summit generally, anywhere in South America. This, he suspected, perhaps reflects the GOB's success in keeping the polemics of the debate under wraps.
10. (C) Looking at the larger picture over the next few weeks, Goldstein believes at least two South American countries, Colombia and Chile, would oppose anti-Israel language in the final draft Summit declaration. He is unsure of Argentina and is resigned to Venezuela's virulent support for any anti-Israel language. No doubt, Goldstein added, the Summit was discussed among the South American Presidents last week in Uruguay. Goldstein conceded that with the help of recent events in the Middle East, Amorim had apparently made some progress to soften the harshest draft declaration language, but since the Foreign Minister still remains fixated on delivering the release of Brazil's one hostage in Iraq, his negotiations with the Arabs may not be tough enough to achieve what B'nai Brith would consider success.
11. (C) A successful effort, B'nai Brith feels, would secure minimum references, if any, in the Summit declaration to (anti-Israel) UNSC resolutions . Ideally, the Summit would return to its original focus on economic, social, and cultural issues, but Goldstein acknowledged that was asking for too much. Goldstein and Sobel agreed with the Ambassador that the chorus should be broadened, and they agreed to approach Sao Paulo's Lebanese community. Both also supported the USG effort to include democracy building among the Summit's principal pillars.
12. (C) Comment: Not only was the Ambassador warmly welcomed by Jewish organizations and leaders who were ecstatic that the Ambassador would give up so much of his time to visit, he also received highly vocal support for USG objectives towards the Arab-South America Summit and the Mideast peace process. Interlocutors also favored expanded outreach to other communities in Sao Paulo to share ideas about the Summit and other issues. B'nai Brith and others are very aware of the state of play of Summit preparations and will, over coming weeks, seek to put pressure on the Brazilian Government for a stronger stance vis a vis the Arabs. However, there is also a sense that, as evidenced by FM's recent trip to the Middle East, the GOB will continue to possess a "tin ear" for Israel, even as it seeks the best possible spin for its own ambitions for a permanent UNSC seat -- perceived by many as the GOB's most important foreign policy objective -- no matter what the cost.
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