San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Iran’s Influence Here Worries Jewish Group

MANAGUA – Expressing serious concern over Iran’s growing influence in the region and the radicalization of certain left-leaning governments in Latin America, the head of the world’s oldest Jewish humanitarian and advocacy group, B’nai B’rith, visited Nicaragua this week for the first time to “take the temperature” of the political situation here.

Moishe Smith, president of the 165-year-old Jewish non-governmental organization, traveled to Managua this week to meet with opposition politicians, foreign diplomats and leaders of Nicaragua’s tiny Jewish community – the smallest in Central America.

B’nai B’rith, which represents some 200,000 families in 60 countries and calls itself “the global a voice of the Jewish community,” engages in a combination of social outreach projects and advocacy work on behalf of Israel. As part of that work, the organization has expressed concern over the growing influence of Iran – whose leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has denied the holocaust ever happened and called for the destruction of Israel.

Smith said that Iran’s growing influence in Nicaragua, Venezuela and other Latin American countries is “a big concern of ours.”

President Daniel Ortega has touted his government’s new relations with Iran and expressed solidarity with that country’s Islamic revolution. Iran is supposedly interested in investing in construction of a deepwater port on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast as well as with helping the Sandinista government with alternative energy and agricultural assistance, though the terms of such aid are unclear.

Since assuming the presidency in 2007, Ortega has visited Tehran and Ahmadinejad has visited Managua – a trip that did not escape the notice of B’nai B’rith.

“We are very concerned about the influence of Iran in Central and South America and we have been speaking about it for years now,” Smith told The Nica Times in an interview.

Smith said that not only is the Jewish organization concerned about “the size of the Iranian embassies that are being opened, not only here in Nicaragua but indeed in the entirety of Latin America,” but also the rhetoric of certain Latin American presidents who “mimic the Iranian president’s call for the elimination of Israel.”

Smith said his organization is not against left-leaning governments, but says “The problem is when you take that left-leaning policy and move it off the end of the table.” Alberto Jabiles, executive vice president for B’nai B’rith in Latin America, said the organization is also very concerned about direct flights between Caracas, Venezuela and Damascus, Syria – a flight that can then connect onto Iran while “avoiding landing in any European nations or in the United States.”

“No one knows what these planes are carrying,” Jabiles said.

Asked if he planned to meet with anyone from the Sandinista government, Smith said there’s “no point” in meeting with administration officials “who have preconceived ideas and parrot radial approaches to Israel’s existence.”

The Jewish community in Nicaragua is only 20 families, or about 80 people total. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were some 70 Jewish families here, including a sizeable Israeli community during a time when the government of Israel had excellent relations with the Nicaraguan government of Anastasio Somoza.

Most of those families, however, left during the revolution and never came back.


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