Latin American Politics In Jerusalem

10 Jan

One of the more enjoyable aspects of having plenty of time on my hands is the opportunity to spend my free afternoons at the Hebrew University attending various talks and conferences, many of which are held in English.

Last week the International Relations and Latin American Studies departments put on a 2-day conference that brought to together a range of Israeli and international scholars to discuss the impact of the global economic crisis on Latin America.

Regretfully, in the 18 months since I finished my Master’s degree (Globalisation and Latin American Development) my interaction with Latin American issues has been far too sporadic – surviving recession-hit London and moving to Israel being more pressing concerns. Sitting in the conference room, listening to the wide range of political and economic arguments laid out before us made me realise how much I’ve been missing such academic debates in my post-university life.

It was somewhat strange listening to two solid days of impassioned discussions focusing on Latin America in Israel of all places. Israel is not a country that stands out as having strong ties or interests in Latin America.  The Hebrew University is perched on a hill with a stunning outlook over the West Bank, the Jordan valley and the rest of the Middle East – surely this must be the only real region of direct impact upon Israeli life. So even given the fine reputation of the Latin American and International Relations departments at the Hebrew University it was still a surprise to see that so many distinguished scholars from around Europe and the Americas had made the grand “schlep” to Jerusalem to discuss a region that has little or no immediate impact upon the State of Israel.

View out over the West Bank from the Hebrew University.

This is not the place to rehash the conclusions of the various papers presented. Briefly though, despite the global doom and gloom it was a pleasant surprise to hear that Latin America seems to have fared relatively well, avoiding the lasting economic and political calamities that had become the hallmark of earlier economic crises. Entering the crisis with their economies in a relatively robust state Latin American countries were, in general, able to implement affective policies that softened the impact of the crisis as well as improved the likelihood of a return to stable economic growth once the world economy revives itself.

One of the more enlightening/enjoyable talks was by a former Israeli World Bank official and now government minister, Avishai Braverman. Although his 90 min. talk didn’t touch particularly on Latin America, his talk offered an accessible account of the excesses of US finance and neo-liberal economics,  peppered with  amusing anecdotes from personal encounters with world leaders (Gorbachev and Ben Gurion) and renowned economists (Joseph Stiglitz). As a government minister I assumed he was a member of the rightist Likud party. However, as his speech repeatedly emphasised the merits of social justice and economic egalitarianism, not to mention his optimism of peaceful co-existence with the Arab world I found it increasingly hard to link this stance with the liberal conservatism and latent anti-Arab outlook of the ruling Likud party. A quick look at his Wikipedia entry unveils that he’s not a Likud party member at all but rather a Labor-party member. This centre-left party – once the dominant force of Israeli politics – has in the face of its dwindling popularity sadly succumb to getting into bed with Likud in a desperate attempt to cling onto the trappings of power. Coalition politics at it’s most ugly.

As much I would like to head back into the academic world and immerse myself in international politics it’s time to move on and get on with real life, my new life…learning Hebrew for instance. So whilst I may not being studying the ins and outs of Latin American politics anymore I can nevertheless now look forward to getting back behind a school desk soon enough. Next week I start my intensive Hebrew course, known here as an ulpan and designed specifically to teach Hebrew to new adult immigrants in Israel. And besides, living in Jerusalem, with the facts of the Middle East conflict clear to see all around you is enough to keep any anorak in international politics happy 🙂

1 Comment

Posted by on January 10, 2010 in Uncategorized


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One response to “Latin American Politics In Jerusalem

  1. Susan Kishner

    January 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Nice site. Theres some good information on here. Ill be checking back regularly.


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