Brazilian Jews lobby in favor of controversial anti-terror bill

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Brazil’s Jewish defense minister, Jaques Wagner, told local Jews that he supports passing controversial anti-terrorist legislation favored by their community’s leadership.

Wagner, who was made minister in December, confirmed his support for the bill during the April 14 encounter in Brasilia with Fernando Lottenberg, president of the CONIB umbrella group representing communities and groups belonging to Brazil’s Jewish community, CONIB wrote in a statement Wednesday.

Proponents of the bill, initiated in 2013 by coalition senators, say it is necessary because it will empower authorities to crack down on terrorist groups before they actually carry out violence, for example at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

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Citing the absence of definitions for what constitutes terrorism, activists and other critics worry it could be abused to stifle dissent at a time when Brazil’s cities repeatedly are rocked by street riots over perceived failures in government spending, including on the Olympics.

The bill, which is pending review by the senate’s human rights commission, was fast tracked last year after a cameraman, Santiago Andrade, was fatally wounded in such a riot.

Still, CONIB, which has long expressed its concern over the presence of Hezbollah and other terrorist operatives in the South American country, supports the legislation and defines it as urgent, according to a CONIB statement from April 15. CONIB is also lobbying for a law that would ban Holocaust denial in Brazil.

The CONIB leaders’ meeting with Wagner coincided with a diplomatic mission to Brazil by the American Jewish Committee.

AJC Director David Harris said the AJC delegation expressed “admiration for Brazil’s pluralistic values and support for coexistence and peace,” but also raised during the meeting with Wagner Brazil’s consistent voting in favor of anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.