Hillel Rio student organizers lead a rally in protest of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil.
"We knew we had to do something to protest his arrival. We knew we couldn’t stand by without action." With these words, Hillel Rio Director Bruno Bondarovsky describes how Hillel students in Rio set out to bring together over 2,000 community members in demonstration against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s planned visit to Brazil.
It's also how Hillel Rio became part of a protest on May 3, 2009 that may well have contributed to the sudden cancellation of that visit.
"As soon as we heard Ahmadinejad was coming to Brazil, Hillel students convened a committee to coordinate a response, something strong to show that this ‘guest' is not welcome here," said Bondarovsky.
"And the students wanted this response to be not just from Hillel, but from the entire Jewish community and from all Brazilians who care about human rights."
With only four days to plan, Hillel Rio activists reached out to over 20 community groups that were organizing their own demonstrations in an effort to coordinate the city's response. In the end the students, in conjunction with other Jewish institutions, including the local Jewish Federation, helped organize a city-wide protest that brought out over 2,000 people to Rio's famous Ipanema Beach.
"This is not just a Jewish issue—Ahmadinejad is a threat to gay rights, women's rights, minority rights, anyone that values civil liberties," said Bondarovsky. "The students felt that our response should unite all these groups."
"For me this was a fantastic demonstration of our power to motivate our community," said Hillel Rio student Daniel Sabbá. "When I spoke with the other minority groups, they were happy to cooperate—we all have problems with Ahmadinejad."
Over 2,000 protesters fill Rio’s famous Ipanema Beach.
Hillel Rio produced T-shirts, flyers, posters, banners and Brazilian flags which were distributed throughout the crowd. The protesters marched down the street shouting phrases urging Brazil's President Luiz Da Silva to "Educate [his] guest!" about human rights violations in Iran.
In addition to the chants and slogans, Hillel students and staff led the crowd in observing a moment of silence in solidarity with all those suffering from dictatorial regimes throughout the world.
"This was an important opportunity for the Jewish community to overcome its internal politics and show how it can come together to show ourselves as Jews and as Brazilians," said Bondarovsky.
The protest generated tremendous media attention from the leading radio and television channels, and became a major focal point of reporting on the public's negative reaction to the visit.
Protesters urged Brazil’s President Luiz Da Silva to stand up for human rights for all people.
And though officially attributed to scheduling conflicts, many cite this and similar protests around the country as reason for the abrupt cancellation of Ahmadinejad's visit to Brazil — a victory that Hillel Rio students are happy to claim.
"I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment when I saw a big part of the Rio de Janeiro Jewish community marching on Ipanema Beach on a sunny Sunday," said Hillel Rio student Dan Dayan. "And I felt even more proud when it was announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad canceled his trip to Brazil."
A video of the protest with English subtitles
Articles about the protest in Portuguese from Globo
Video on Globo