At its May 21 celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) honored the now former Mexican ambassador to UNESCO Andrés Isaac Roemer Slomianski with its first International Sephardi Leadership Award.
An economist, lawyer and television personality who holds a Ph.D. from Berkeley and a master’s from Harvard, Roemer had been fired by his government for refusing to personally vote for a resolution that denied the basic realities of history: In October 2016, UNESCO promulgated a resolution denying the historic connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and to its holiest sites, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The resolution labeled Israel an “occupying power” and called the holiest places of Judaism only by their Arabic names.
Roemer, who had been appointed as ambassador just two months before the vote, had been directed by Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs to support the resolution, as the country had done for the past six years. Instead, Roemer walked out, refusing to personally cast, yet not changing, Mexico’s vote.
He has since been criticized by all sides: for not resigning immediately, as a matter of principle—fellow lawyer Alberto Mansur criticized him for “cowardliness or complicity”—and, conversely, for not acting at his country’s direction. (Official reasons cited for the firing included failing to communicate with superiors about the implications of the resolution, disclosing “official correspondence subject to secrecy” and “reporting to representatives of countries other than Mexico” about his vote.)
Although Roemer said he consulted with members of the Jewish community and the Mexican government before the day of the vote, both his community and the greater Mexican society turned against him. The Mexican Jewish community loudly criticized him for casting—albeit by surrogate—Mexico’s vote in favor of the resolution. Roemer’s son, Alejandro Roemer, wrote on Facebook, “In these last days, the Mexican Jewish community has shown the anger and rage with which it can turn against itself.”
Even when the government ultimately changed its vote, issuing an ex post facto abstention in place of its initial positive ballot and calling for UNESCO to hold a new vote altogether, Roemer remained persona non grata. The left-leaning Mexican newspaper La Jornada called him “dishonorable” for “not representing the country for which he was working.” The paper further categorized Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs’ decision to change its vote as being in concert with “the Israeli position.”
Did Roemer fall victim to the implication of dual loyalty? Was he a scapegoat?
Mexican Jews live an oddly confined, yet civilly free, life. Their public participation in Mexican society is juxtaposed with an insular Jewish social life: Almost all Jews attend Jewish schools; intermarriage is rare. Security is tight and “society” is a community activity. It is a unique mixture of protection, insularity and empowerment.
At the ASF celebration, federation President David E.R. Dangoor presented Roemer with the award. Dangoor stated that “Jerusalem is not only the heart of the country, but also of the Jewish religion.” He reminded the audience that King David had brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. “Jews have always considered Jerusalem as their homeland…the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people is not new….What Ambassador Roemer did was bring attention to true history.”
The centrality of Jerusalem for Jews and Judaism throughout history was emphasized by keynote speaker Professor Ephraim Isaac, who noted the frequent mention of the city in the Tanakh—the Hebrew bible. “Jerusalem always rings like a big trumpet.” It is “the cornerstone of Judaism.” Among ancient writings, “only Jewish literature mentions Jerusalem.”
The Israeli ambassador is said to have sent Roemer a letter thanking him for “bravery and courage.”
And Jason Guberman-P., ASF executive director, called the UNESCO resolution “an attempt to subvert the past,” noting that announcement of the award “went viral in 48 hours…a testament to Ambassador Roemer’s brave stand for truth.”
Roemer accepted his award, saying, “It’s not a split-nationality position between Jewish loyalty and Mexican nationality….There is no loyalty more important than the loyalty to truth. It is more important to question everything than only to be educated.”
He continued, “I hoped to start changing the culture of UNESCO, combating the resolution as a crime against logic….Any resolution or policy that negates, erases or diminishes any Muslim, Christian or Jewish tradition undermines humanity as a whole.
“One will face difficult questions: Do you stand by or act, obey or disobey, resist the flow or go along? The way you answer is the legacy of yourself….If you act by your moral compass, it’s very likely that the price will be very high; even your life may be at risk. The price of critical thinking is high.”
“The point is to think about the whole of humanity in every corner of our lives—to make society better off. That dedication, that tradition, is what makes me a Jew.”
The now former ambassador noted that the Palestinian Authority’s political strategy guarantees that “they cannot lose—once they know they don’t have the 16 votes, they will not present the resolution. Thus, they never lose.”
The UNESCO vote, Roemer concluded, “was a pure political vote….There was no search for the truth or for what is good to keep peace.”