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November 24, 2014

Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s representative in LATAm, Sergio Widder

Thursday, July 17, 2014

‘You can’t dialogue with someone who denies your existence’

By Carolina Thibaud
Herald Staff
Sergio Widder, the representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Latin America, said yesterday in an interview with the Herald that the five-hour ceasefire taking place today is “new evidence that Israel wants peace” as he denied there was international pressure on the Jewish state to halt its offensive in Gaza.

Israel’s operation against the Palestinian group Hamas was launched nine days ago and so far, has caused more than 200 fatalities, many of them civilians including dozens of children. Hamas, meanwhile, has fired thousands of missiles into Israel, which on Tuesday said it had suffered its first fatality. Israel’s missile defence system, known as the Irom Dome, has managed to neutralize many of the rockets aimed at populated areas.

The confrontation, the most recent in a seemingly never-ending series of conflicts between Hamas and the Jewish state, has led to an outcry from international leaders — from the UN chief Ban ki-Moon to members of the US government — who have called for an end to hostilities.

“I don’t think there’s been international pressure. I think that the international community is concerned and wants to find a way out of the conflict that allows for long-lasting and sustainable peace,” Widder told the Herald yesterday.

“It’s the same thing that Israel and the majority of Palestinians want. It’s the same that the citizens of every country on earth want: to go to work, to enjoy family life, to educate their kids,” he added.

Hamas, he said, is to blame for the two sides failing to achieve peace. “Hamas is a terrorist group that explicitly states that it wants to destroy the state of Israel and advocates the killing of Jews all over the world,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve moderated their position over time. When the three Israeli teenagers were killed, they celebrated it publicly.”

The abduction and assassination of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June was one of the triggers of the latest offensive against Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the group for the killings even though Hamas denied its involvement.

Some analysts believe that the kidnappings could have been the work of a minor group, not directly related to Hamas’ leadership. But Israeli media have quoted sources inside the Palestinian organization who “hailed (the perpetrators’) success.”

‘Abbas should break

with Hamas’

The latest confrontation also comes after the failure of a new round of US-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), headed by Mahmoud Abbas. A unity deal with between Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas delivered the final blow to the peace initiative, which had failed to make any real progress.

“If Hamas wants peace, they need to renounce violence like the PLO has done,” Widder declared yesterday. “The unity deal with Abbas’ Fatah obviously raises doubts in Israel: you can’t dialogue with somebody who denies your existence,” he said.

According to Widder, “Abbas should break with Hamas.”

But how could Abbas enforce an eventual deal with Israel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip if it severs ties with the group

“There’s no simple solution. If not, we would have achieved peace already,” Widder answered.

“We need to work to strengthen the groups that want a ceasefire. Not only to put an end to Israel’s operation in Gaza but to put an end to the firing of missiles from Gaza into Israeli territory. That hasn’t started now,” he highlighted.

Regarding the possibility of Israel launching a ground operation in Gaza, Widder declined to comment, saying he’s not a military strategist and couldn’t say what purpose it would serve. “All I know is that I hope all this ends soon. But I also know we cannot accept to have a terrorist group firing rockets into Israeli territory,” Widder underlined.

Anti-semitism?

In a statement published on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Facebook page yesterday, the NGO criticized a bill proposed by Victory Front legislators in which the deputies “express disdain and concern about the military operations of Israel in Gaza.”

According to the communiqué, “far from promoting peace, (the bill) aims at legitimizing Hamas’ terrorism.”

Widder has also been embroiled in a row with journalist Pedro Brieger, a columnist at the Public TV network and CNN in Spanish. The director accused Brieger of being an “accomplice” to Hamas.

Asked if someone critical of the state of Israel doesn’t often end up being branded anti-Semitic, Widder admitted that “it’s true that many people tend to react like this, but not in my case.”

“I didn’t call Pedro Brieger anti-Semitic, I said he is an accomplice of Hamas, an anti-Semitic group that wants the destruction of Israel,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes him an anti-Semite. He is free to say whatever he wants but he should then be willing to accept criticism,” he added.

“Morevoer, Brieger gives his opinion from the public TV network. And I wonder: is that the voice of the Argentine state?”

@carothibaud
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