Dina Siegel Vann, the founding director of the AJC’s Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, said her Washington, D.C.-based institute is “unique in the Jewish world.”

“It’s an institute that focuses on building bridges between the Jewish and Latino communities in the United States and we focus on strengthening Hispanic relations, U.S.-Latin America-Israel relations and ensuring the well-being of Jewish communities in the region,” said Siegel Vann, who was born in Mexico City. “... We’re building bridges between the different intersections of the Latino universe (at) large, whether it be Latin America, Latinos in the United States, in Portugal, the Jewish communities, in Israel, etc.”

Siegel Vann will visit Cleveland for AJC Cleveland’s 74th annual meeting, which will include dinner and a conversation with Siegel Vann. Siegel Vann, who also has lived in Israel and immigrated to the U.S. in 1996, said this will be her first visit to Cleveland and she also plans on meeting with some leaders of Cleveland’s Hispanic community. She said the main thrust of her speech will be about what she calls the “crucial alliance” of Israel, Latin America and the U.S. and plans to focus on immigration, trade and security, three topics that are especially relevant in the U.S. right now. In the instance of trade, Siegel Vann will focus less on the U.S.’s trade war with Mexico, China and other nations and more on Israel’s role in Latin America.

“Latin America views Israel as an indispensable ally in addressing some of the very dire challenges it faces, including security,” Siegel Vann said. “As you know there’s been information that Hezbollah and Iran, but especially Hezbollah’s national activity and connections with criminal gangs throughout the hemisphere, is a huge problem for the region. ... This is a very important issue. Israel has been working very closely with intelligence services, with police staff services throughout the region but especially in the southern cone in order to have them prevent and address this issue.”

She said her work is partially about changing perceptions; she said Latin America has a huge impact on the United States, likely more than any other region.

“Latin America has a constructive agenda, very important agenda, starting with the fact that in Latin America, 99% (of it) is democratic,” said Siegel Vann. “That Anti-Semitism exists but it’s not comparable, really, to what’s going on in Europe. ... What we would like - and that’s my job - is to ensure that American society - and U.S. Jewry and global Jewry - looks at Latin America in a different light, just as we do with Israel. … This is the type of work that we do, which is really indispensable, I think, very critical.”

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