Jewish leaders praise Panama for adopting IHRA antisemitism definition

Antisemitism is “negligible” in the country, but Panama’s decision is a “preventive measure” that sends a clear message, said Dina Siegel Vann of the American Jewish Committee.

The Republic of Panama became the 42nd country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The decision, announced on July 25, drew praise from Jewish leaders.

“Panama’s adopting the IHRA definition is yet another important endorsement for these vital standards used in the fight against antisemitism,” Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, told JNS.

“We hope that Panama’s example will now be followed by other countries in Latin America that have not yet adopted the definition,” he said. “With antisemitism growing globally at an alarming rate, the IHRA definition enables like-minded countries, municipal jurisdictions, universities, athletic associations and others to create a broad front in combating this vile form of hatred.”

Dina Siegel Vann, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, told JNS that antisemitism is “negligible” in Panama, where government and civil society partake annually in Holocaust remembrance.

Panama IHRA
Janaina Tewaney Mencomo (left), Panama’s foreign minister, and Fernando Lottenberg, commissioner to monitor and combat antisemitism at the Organization of American States, participate in a July 25, 2023 ceremony marking Panama’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. Courtesy: B’nai B’rith International District 23.

“Adopting the IHRA definition is a preventive measure to send a clear message that anti-Jewish hatred in all its forms—and whatever its sources—will not be tolerated in this country,” she told JNS.

“This decision is not surprising and reflects Panama’s warm relations with the State of Israel,” Ronnie Perelis, chair and associate professor of Sephardic studies at Yeshiva University, told JNS.

“Panama has a small but well-established and vibrant Jewish community that has always had good relations with the government and is fervently pro-Israel,” he said.

Janaina Tewaney Mencomo, Panama’s foreign minister, and Fernando Lottenberg, commissioner to monitor and combat antisemitism at the Organization of American States, participated in a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Panama City on July 25 marking the adoption of the definition. José Simpson Polo, minister of the presidency, represented Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo at the event.

‘Saying no to intolerance’

Shay Salamon, director of Hispanic outreach at the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), stated in a release that the group is “delighted and grateful that the Republic of Panama has adopted IHRA.” In so doing, it fulfilled its pledge at the Central America-Israel Forum, which CAM co-organized last year in Panama.

“We are continuing to work in Latin America, where there is a growing understanding of the necessity in fighting antisemitism to create a safer society, free of all forms of hate and discrimination,” Salamon stated.

In the same release, Sacha Roytman Dratwa, CAM’s CEO, called the decision “an important step taken by the Panamanian government, and one which will be vital in fighting antisemitism and hate.”

“Acceptance of the IHRA definition is continuing apace globally, almost a quarter of all nations have now accepted and adopted it, with hopefully more on the way,” he said.

A total of 1,192 entities worldwide have adopted or endorse the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, per the CAM Antisemitism Research Center.

Panama IHRA
A ceremony marking the Republic of Panama’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism on July 25, 2023. Courtesy: B’nai B’rith International District 23.

“The endorsement of IHRA by the Republic of Panama is a welcome step toward building international consensus toward combating antisemitism,” stated Harriet Schleifer and William Daroff, chair and CEO, respectively, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We thank President Laurentino Cortizo and the Panamanian National Assembly for taking action to help combat antisemitism domestically and globally,” they added.

Itai Bardov, the Israeli ambassador to Panama, tweeted in Spanish that it was “a great honor and pleasure” to participate in the July 25 ceremony, which he said put the country “in line with dozens of leading countries in the world that are clearly saying no to antisemitism, hatred and intolerance.”

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