American Jewish Committee (AJC) presented its Champion of Democracy Award to Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), for exemplifying courageous and visionary leadership in fighting for democratic rule in the region and for combating antisemitism and terrorism.

“It is truly an honor to receive the AJC Champion of Democracy Award, which I accept on behalf of the millions that are victims today of hate, intolerance, and repression in the Americas,” said Almagro. “If there is genuine democracy in place, there is no place for evil to flourish.”

The award was presented by Mario Fleck, co-chair, and Dina Siegel Vann, director, of AJC’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs (BILLA), during the closing plenary session of the AJC Global Forum.

The OAS head made two historic statements regarding antisemitism and international terrorism in the region in his remarks accepting the award.

Almagro declared that the OAS Secretariat endorses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The working definition offers a clear and comprehensive description of antisemitism in its various forms, including hatred and discrimination against Jews, Holocaust denial, and, of particular note, antisemitism as it relates to Israel.

“The OAS will work every day to accomplish a Hemisphere free of antisemitism, free of terrorism, free of dictatorships,” said Almagro. “We must do more to educate our people to have zero tolerance towards antisemitism.”

Strongly denouncing “Iran and Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, that have a solid base of operations in South America,” Almagro said “the cowards that attack democracy and the values of human dignity it represents have found fertile ground to operate in Cuba and Venezuela. And because evil breeds evil, and evil attracts evil, Latin American dictators in the 21st century have partnered with terrorists and antisemitic actors and organizations.”

He recalled the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the “worst terrorist act in the history of Argentina and the largest Jewish death toll from antisemitic terrorism outside Israel since World War II.” Both Iran and Hezbollah have been implicated in the bombing that left 85 dead and hundreds wounded.

“History has been made here today at the AJC Global Forum,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who spontaneously joined Almagro on the stage after he concluded his remarks. “Secretary-General Luis Almagro is the first Latin American leader to adopt the working definition of antisemitism,” said Harris.

Moreover, Harris continued, “I’ve never heard in my 30 years of advocacy with Latin America such a clear denunciation of Iran and Hezbollah. Again, history has been made. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our dear friend, Luis Almagro.”

AJC is “an essential partner of the OAS,” said Almagro, noting that AJC was granted NGO status by the OAS in 2005. “You can count on our multilateral political platform to fight hatred, to educate, to increase awareness, and to help Member States adopt measures and cooperate to fight antisemitism and terrorism.”

Almagro has been a close friend of AJC since he served as Foreign Minister of Uruguay, 2010-2015. He especially travelled to Mexico, shortly after he was inaugurated in May 2015 as OAS Secretary General, to address AJC’s Belfer Center for Latino and Latin American Affairs (BILLA) 10th anniversary celebration in Mexico. 

The AJC Global Forum, taking place June 2-4 in Washington, D.C., is the advocacy organization’s signature annual event, bringing together nearly 2,500 civic, political, and Jewish leaders from across the United States and 50 countries around the world.
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