Webcast Recap

Edward ‘Edy’ Kaufman presented his study on interactions among the homeland, diasporas, and the host country by highlighting the actual and potential links for peace building among both Arab and Jewish communities, specifically in Latin America, and their relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On December 9, 2011, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program and Latin American Program hosted a discussion with Kaufman, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center and Senior Research Associate and Former Director, Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland. Luciana Debenedetti, Janine Jaouni and Hanif Kashani of Kaufman’s research team also participated.  Cynthia Arnson, Director of the Latin American Program, provided introductory remarks and moderated the event.

Kaufman began by outlining three areas of comparison between the Arab and Jewish diasporas in Latin America: chronological, functional, and geographical. He noted significant changes in the depreciation of the Jewish population in Latin America over time. He described how in the past, the diaspora was considerably Zionist and felt a “pull” towards Israel. However, in his view, this is changing as “diaspora-ism is replacing Zionism.” He described how the United States is now more appealing than Israel to the Jewish diaspora, despite much lower unemployment and a greater chance of “absorption in society” in Israel.

He then discussed the Arab diaspora. He explained that there had been very little research about Arab, Palestinian, or Muslim communities in Latin America; population figures varied too much to draw accurate conclusions. Nevertheless, he noted that there is a considerably large Palestinian diaspora in Latin America, who in his view are often forgotten. This is due to the focus of the Palestinian “right of return” question on neighboring countries to Israel as opposed to Latin America. He noted that Israel on the other hand, considers the “right of return” to include all Jewish diaspora, anywhere in the world.

Kaufman discussed the role of Islam in Latin America. He described how after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this issue received greater attention given the geographical proximity to the United States. In his view, while the presence of radical Islam in the region is not as dramatic as some suggest, there are “beginnings that should be considered.” He mentioned the Mexican connection to the Iranian assassination plot of the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. as an example.

Kaufman’s study also included Iran’s role and influence in the region. He identified three interests Iran had in Latin America: spreading anti-U.S. rhetoric in “America’s backyard,” economic opportunities, and potential assistance on nuclear development. He discussed the role of Iran with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Latin America. In his view, while it would be wrong to assume Latin American states recognize the Palestinian state because of Iran, Iran has had a role in pushing these states to sever relations with Israel. Kaufman mentioned Ahmadinejad’s visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia to exemplify this.

In concluding remarks, Kaufman emphasized the importance of redressing the process of currently “importing” the Israeli/Palestinian conflict –including violence- to Latin America. Given the action-research nature of the project, during visits to seven Latin American countries, he explored the possibility of “exporting” the benefit of an historical experience of Arab/Jewish coexistence back to the Middle East.

By Mona Moussavi, Middle East Program