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Mexico’s consul general harvests ‘dangerous ideas’ for change

617 920 Carla Marinucci

As an author and playwright, Andrés Isaac Roemer Slomianski has examined everything from the intimate politics of sex to the world passion for soccer. As a political analyst, he has fueled debate both through his ambitious «festival of minds» that attracts some of the globe’s intellectual leaders, and through hosting popular TV shows that reach millions of people.

But throughout the astonishingly eclectic life of Mexico’s consul general in San Francisco, there’s been one common thread – an energetic, endless search for the «dangerous ideas» that catapult change.

Those appear to come naturally to the Jewish Mexican grandson of a Viennese conductor who escaped from the Nazis, who is distantly related to the American humorist Art Buchwald, and whose resume of international honors put him into the public eye long before he came to San Francisco last year.

His admirers describe the 50-year-old Roemer – political analyst, attorney, economist, think tank founder, author of 16 books and two award-winning plays, and creator of «La Ciudad de Ideas,» the annual forum exploring ideas

and culture – as the rare public figure who deserves to be called a Renaissance man.

«He’s a genius in how he combines so many different facets,» said G. Clotaire Rapaille, the French-born marketing expert and author who collaborated with Roemer on «Move Up,» a 2013 book exploring why some cultures succeed and others don’t.

«Andrés is a 21st century visionary,» said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a friend of Roemer’s. «He understands the need for collaboration at all levels.»

Cultural shifts

With Mexico doing $1 million in trade every minute with the U.S., and officials such as Gov. Jerry Brown heading south to boost business, the demographics of Mexican immigration are shifting toward tech workers, skilled laborers and students who can make the information economy work in both countries, experts say.

Such shifts, Roemer says, are driving Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to enlist the aid of the 10 Mexican consuls general in California in building the country’s «freeway to the future» by encouraging educational, cultural and technology exchange programs.

«The problems of deportations and immigration are critical problems, … and we’re not underestimating them,» Roemer said. But equally important, he says, are «the many other things (the U.S. and Mexico) have in common, like education, where we can talk about building bridges – not walls.»

In an address to UC Berkeley graduates in June, Roemer – the first Mexican ever to receive the Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award, one of the school’s highest honors – displayed some of the qualities that have won him acclaim: an almost manic curiosity, a formidable intellectual arsenal and a mischievous wit.

He told the graduates of the joy he felt upon receiving his doctorate in public policy from Cal – as a Mexican, he said, he was seized by a powerful need to shout his happiness to the world, but as a good Jewish son, his first instinct was «to call my mother.»

The man who was kicked out of schools as a rebellious youth cited Charles DarwinAlbert Einstein, the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai – an activist for women’s rights who survived a Taliban assassination attempt – as proof that intellectual leadership comes from «the mind that explores new questions, a mind that really challenges the status quo … a mind that really takes risks in dangerous ideas.»

«If we really want to finish with racism and intolerance, it’s not through walls or wars, through weapons or drones,» Roemer said. «It is through critical thinking.»

Building bridges

Roemer is well suited for the challenges of new diplomacy. «I know no other person that has done as much for education and culture by building bridges as Andrés Roemer,» said former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Starting July 31, Roemer will host «Mex I Am,» one of the largest showcases of Mexican culture ever produced outside that country. The six-day event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center features international stars of dance and music, such as Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, on the same stage – here’s Roemer’s touch at work – as the country’s celebrated thinkers in education, science and politics.

Strengthening ties

The consul general is also hoping to persuade San Francisco to link up with a Mexican sister city, both to strengthen longtime cultural ties and to help Mexico play a bigger role in a modern-day mecca for change.

«In 1848, it was the Gold Rush,» Roemer said of San Francisco. «Today, the gold is ideas.»

He added, «The Bay Area is the richest place, the place of entrepreneurship. It’s not, ‘What do you do for a living?’ It’s, ‘What’s your passion?’ It’s taking risks.»

Roemer’s family history suggests risk-taking is part of his DNA.

His grandfather, Viennese composer and conductor Ernesto Roemer, changed his last name from Rosenfeld and escaped the looming Holocaust by fleeing to Mexico in 1938 after being invited to the country by the painter Diego Rivera.

Roemer’s father, Oscar Roemer, is an architect, artist, tango teacher and a writer. Because of Roemer’s parents’ divorce early in his life, it was his Mexican Russian mother, Fanny Slovinski – a literature and arts teacher and a Jarocho dancer who speaks seven languages – who most influenced his artistic and intellectual curiosity.

She banned television, Roemer said, so he got his education on the streets. He was obsessed with playing soccer – his passion – and he immersed himself in books by such authors as Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde.

That early love for learning, he says, bred a tendency to question authority – and exercise an iconoclastic wit- that got him kicked out of a few by-the-book schools, including the local Jewish one.

«I was a very good student, but always rebellious … trying to make revolution,» he laughed. «But it was finally in a school where I was encouraged to criticize and question things that I really began to learn.»

Paris on no money

He was 16 when he wrote his first play. He was determined – even without a lot of money – to get to Paris. Once there, he occasionally crashed Jewish weddings to get a good meal.

He worked in the vineyards of Switzerland, «one of the hardest jobs I ever had in my life,» he said. And, for the first time, «I experienced anti-Semitism.»

It wasn’t until he returned home that he found his academic stride: In 1987, he graduated with honors from two leading Mexican universities with degrees in both law and economics – in the same week.

In that same manic week he married Daphne Gonzalez. The couple, since divorced, had two sons, 19-year-old fraternal twins Alejandro and David, and an 18-year-old daughter, Valeria, who still live in Mexico City.

After graduation, it was off to Harvard – where Roemer earned a master’s in public administration and was the first Latin American to win the university’s Don K. Price Award for academic achievement – and to UC Berkeley, where his doctoral thesis focused on water policy and scarcity.

Since then, in such areas as evolutionary psychology, law and economics, he has attracted worldwide attention. In 2006, Microsoft Corp. and the Latin American and Iberian Law and Economics Association created the «Andrés Roemer Microsoft Award,» an annual prize that honors extraordinary contributions to economic law.

Provocative playwright

Through it all, Roemer has been a prolific writer and explorer of ideas, culture and public policy. His two plays have tackled more intimate subject matter: «The Other Einstein» explored the passions of the famed scientist through the prism of the women and children in his life, and «Oskar and Jack» told the story of twins, separated at birth – one a Nazi, the other a Jew – who are reunited 46 years after World War II.

But in the past 15 years, he said, «my biggest intellectual challenge has been to ask why some countries move up and others don’t – and what can I do to help my country to move up.»

His quest led him nine months ago to accept the consul general’s job in San Francisco.

Not the usual diplomat

Amir Aczel, the Israeli-born mathematician and author, says Roemer’s effort to push the boundaries of education and debate «doesn’t fit the mold» of a traditional foreign service bureaucrat – but that it does represent the future of diplomacy.

He cites Roemer’s curating of «La Ciudad de Ideas» (City of Ideas), his annual gathering of international thought leaders in Puebla, Mexico, that’s been called a «brilliant minds festival.»

The event, started by Roemer and Mexican media mogul Ricardo Salinas Pliego, is held before an audience of thousands and reaches 14 million people on television and the Internet. Its goal is «to celebrate humanity» while urging viewers of all ages and classes to work their intellectual muscles and «question what you think» in science, education, politics and the arts.

Among those who have taken part over the event’s six years: director Oliver Stone, physician Deepak Chopra, author and scientist Jared Diamond, tech insider Randi Zuckerberg and economist Paul Krugman.

Harvard psychology Professor Steven Pinker, a past participant, described the forum as having «all the razzle-dazzle and popular appeal of the TED Conferences,» which attract an A-list crowd of entrepreneurs and tech gurus. The key difference: «Roemer invites thousands of ordinary Mexican citizens – most notably, high school students – to ‘Ciudad de Las Ideas.’ »

Roemer also hosts several politically and culturally oriented TV shows including «En El Ring» (In the Ring), a kind of rapid-fire intellectual fight club, and «Reporte Roemer» (The Roemer Report), a political dialogue.

His jam-packed schedule and public outreach have turned Roemer into something of a media celebrity – he has 86,000 followers on Twitter – whose social life both here and in Mexico City has become a subject for paparazzi.

There’s also a buzz about whether Roemer is angling toward a future in politics – something he dismisses, at least for now, saying that «politics is harder than physics.»

Experience questioned

Still, Roemer’s high profile has sparked criticism from some who suggest that he simply doesn’t fit the traditional civic servant role.

Mexican journalist Leon Krauze said Roemer is «a good TV host, entrepreneur and a renowned culture-dedicated aesthete.» But being consul general, Krauze says, requires «serious experience» to help the tens of thousands of Mexican citizens in the Bay Area on bread-and-butter issues like visas, police brutality and human rights.

Roemer agrees that working on such problems is his main job. But he argues that innovation must be part of the mix, to foster educational and economic development on both sides of the border.

Toward that end, he says, he’s met with college administrators in California to support the launch of «Project 100,000,» an exchange program that would bring 100,000 Mexicans to study and train in the U.S. – and send 50,000 Americans to study in Mexico – by 2018. University of California President Janet Napolitano is «working very strongly» with consuls general to boost Latino enrollment in the UC system, Roemer said.

Esther Wojcicki, an educator who has taught at Palo Alto High School since 1984 – and has been a speaker at Roemer’s forums – said Roemer is «teaching these young people that we all have a lot in common … and it will make a huge difference in the way we perceive Mexico, and the way Mexicans perceive themselves.»

‘Mentality to change’

To Roemer, it’s part of Mexico’s effort to harvest those dangerous ideas and make the most of its richest resource, human capital.

«We are investing a lot in science, in technology, in education,» he said. «To get to this freeway of the future, the first thing you need to have is institutional transformation. You have to have the mentality to change.

«And that’s what Mexico is doing: Mexico is moving up.»

Mexican diplomat to be honored for challenging UNESCO on anti-Israel vote

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The Mexican diplomat who was fired from his ambassador position for walking out an anti-Israel vote by a United Nations agency will be honored by the American Sephardic Federation.

Andres Roemer, who is Jewish, will be awarded the International Sephardic Leadership Award at a ceremony on May 21 at the Center for Jewish History in New York. The event will honor the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

“When confronted by the recent UNESCO resolution that sought to erase Jerusalem, Israel’s Jewish and Christian history, Ambassador Roemer knowingly risked his position to voice and vote his conscience,” read the federation’s announcement.

In October, the Latin American diplomat risked his position by walking out of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization vote at its headquarters in Paris — leaving his deputy to cast the country’s vote — in a personal protest against the UNESCO resolution denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

“While the resolution still passed, Ambassador Roemer did not forget Jerusalem and his moral courage convinced several countries, including his own, to seek to reverse the resolution’s ill-considered position against historical truth and the possibility of peace,” according to the announcement.

For not following the instructions he had received from the Mexican government, he was fired a few days later.

“For not having informed diligently and with meticulousness of the context in which the voting process occurred, for reporting to representatives of countries other than Mexico about the sense of his vote, and for making public documents and official correspondence subject to secrecy,” read the official statement released.

Before being fired, Roemer apparently contemplated resigning his post, but was urged not to by Israel’s ambassador Carmel Shama HaCohen, who wrote him a personal letter praising him as a friend of the Jewish state.

Mexico ended up changing its vote from “in favor” to abstain on the resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, which referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall — Judaism’s holiest sites — only by their Muslim names, and condemned Israel as “the occupying power” for various actions taken in both places.

A week after Roemer was fired, vandals broke glass windows, smashed furniture, and painted graffiti on the walls of Mexico City’s Agudas Ajim synagogue in two separate attacks after local Jewish leaders launched a public campaign against the UNESCO vote.

Mexican Consul General in New York, Diego Gomez-Pickering, is expected to attend Roemer’s award ceremony on May 21, according to the federation.

UNESCO head calls Temple Mount ‘holiest place in Judaism’

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In address to World Jewish Congress, Irina Bokova defends links of all three monotheistic religions to Jerusalem

The head of the United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO defended Jewish links to holy sites in Jerusalem on Monday, criticizing her own agency’s governing board for passing a series of resolutions that downplay or deny any Jewish connection to its most sacred spaces.

Irina Bokova, head of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, called the Temple Mount the “holiest place in Judaism,” during a Monday address in from of the World Jewish Congress in New York.

“The Al Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of the Muslims, is also the Har Habayit – or Temple Mount – the holiest place in Judaism, whose Western Wall is revered by millions across the world, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives holy to the Christians,” she said.

Defending the links of all three monotheistic religions to Jerusalem, Bokova told delegates that “to deny, conceal, or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”

Last October UNESCO passed a resolution sponsored by Arab states that ignored Jewish and Christian historical ties to Jerusalem holy sites, sparking an outcry in Israel.

Bokova subsequently criticized the agency saying, “The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city.”

Israel and the United States suspended their funding to the committee in 2011 after the Palestinians were admitted as members. Both countries lost their voting rights as a result, which has made the passage of anti-Israel resolutions more straightforward.

Also in her address, Bokova launched a new policy guide for educators focused on the teaching of the Holocaust, genocide and mass atrocities.

“We must empower future generations with the lessons from the Holocaust, equip our children and grandchildren with the tools they need to vanquish intolerance and hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice,” she said.


Andrés Roemer, será honrado por desafiar el voto de la UNESCO sobre Jerusalén

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El premio le será entregado en una ceremonia  en el Centro de Historia Judía de Nueva York el próximo 21 de mayo. El evento se llevará a cabo en el marco  del 50 aniversario de la Liberación de Jerusalén durante la Guerra de los Seis Días.

«Ante la reciente resolución de la UNESCO que pretendía borrar Jerusalén, la historia judía y cristiana de Israel, el ex embajador Roemer puso en juego su posición para expresar y votar su conciencia a sabiendas de que en ello le iba su futuro como diplomático», dijo el comunicado de la federación.

«A pesar de que la resolución fue de cualquier modo aprobada, Andrés Roemer no olvidó Jerusalén y su coraje moral convenció a varios países, incluido el suyo propio, de revertir la posición mal considerada de la resolución contra la verdad histórica y la posibilidad de paz», según el anuncio.

Por no seguir las instrucciones que había recibido del gobierno mexicano, fue despedido unos días más tarde.

«Por no haber informado con diligencia y meticulosidad del contexto en el que se realizó el proceso de votación, por informar a los representantes de países distintos a México sobre el sentido de su voto y por hacer confidenciales los documentos públicos y la correspondencia oficial» Declaración oficial publicada por la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores.

Antes de ser destituido, Roemer aparentemente pensaba renunciar a su puesto, pero el embajador de Israel, Carmel Shama HaCohen, le instó a que no mediante una carta personal alabándolo como amigo del estado judío.

México terminó cambiando su voto de «a favor» para abstenerse de la resolución, que había sido patrocinada por varios países árabes, y se refirió al Monte del Templo y el Muro Occidental – los sitios más sagrados del Judaísmo – sólo por sus nombres musulmanes, La potencia ocupante «por diversas acciones tomadas en ambos lugares.

Una semana después de que Roemer fuera despedido, los vándalos rompieron ventanas de cristal, destrozaron los muebles y pintaron graffiti en las paredes de la sinagoga Agudas Ajim de la Ciudad de México en dos ataques separados después de que los líderes judíos locales lanzaran una campaña pública contra el voto de la UNESCO.

Se espera que el cónsul mexicano en Nueva York, Diego Gómez-Pickering, asista a la ceremonia de premiación de Roemer el próximo 21 de mayo, según informó la federación.

Times Of israel / Traducido por DiarioJudio.com

Iniciativa México: 5 interrogantes

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I. ¿Por qué es trascendente estimular iniciativas? Un país sin iniciativa privada, está privado de iniciativa. En su libro Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam muestra que la diferencia entre las sociedades desarrolladas y las subdesarrolladas es la fuerza de la sociedad civil. Porque las organizaciones sociales son más cercanas a los problemas, hacen diagnósticos más certeros y muestran más pasión que gobiernos y organismos internacionales; padecer el problema es el mejor incentivo para encontrar la solución. Iniciativa México (IMx) apuesta por fortalecer la sociedad civil como motor del desarrollo.

II. ¿Por qué difundirlo a través de la tv? 1) Porque es el medio más eficaz. Gracias a ello, sólo por poner un ejemplo, millones de personas que sufren violencia saben que hay organizaciones que pueden apoyarlos. 2) Porque cuando estas soluciones se hacen públicas otros ciudadanos pueden imitarlas o mejorarlas y es la sociedad civil lo que hace próspera a una sociedad. 3) Quizá lo más importante, ahora millones de mexicanos saben que hacer proyectos sustentables financieramente no está peleado con ayudar y es la única forma en que esa ayuda sea perdurable.

III. Se recibieron 47 mil 49 iniciativas. ¿Son muchas o pocas para un país de 106 millones de habitantes? No lo sé, ¿qué piensa usted? Lo cierto es que México necesita más iniciativas para erradicar la pobreza, hambre, inseguridad, desempleo, rezago educativo, dependencia tecnológica, corrupción y un doloroso etcétera de pendientes en la agenda pública.

IV. ¿Por qué 10 millones de pesos y no 20 u otra cifra? Alguien hizo esa pregunta, cuando lo que deberíamos preguntarnos es ¿qué tanto ayuda la aportación de IMx? Si bien el dinero es la parte evidente, el tiempo en tv y la publicidad de la que 25 iniciativas gozan es una donación muy superior. Por ejemplo: desde que se presentó “llamadas que cambian vidas” se duplicó el número de llamadas recibidas al día. Estas iniciativas llegan a más gente, lo que aumenta sus clientes, donaciones y financiamientos. Lo que debemos preguntarnos es ¿cuál es la diferencia que puede hacer cada peso adicional en la vida de una persona? Sea la cifra que sea, lo importante será cómo esa aportación transformó los alcances, beneficiarios y efectividad de las iniciativas. IMx más que apoyar una iniciativa, divulga la soluciones replicables para los problemas de México.

IV. ¿Por qué debemos evaluar cada iniciativa? Si usted tuviera 10 millones de pesos podría: prenderle fuego a los billetes, gastarlos, invertirlos o regalarlos. ¿Quién podría cuestionar lo que haga con su dinero? Pero si pide a sus vecinos aportaciones para resolver un problema comunitario, ¿podría gastar ese dinero en usted o quemarlo? Cuestionar la sustentabilidad de las iniciativas no es fácil, pues todas son admirables, pero cuestionarlas es hacer público su objetivo, la forma en que emplean sus recursos y sus logros, es exigir rendición de cuentas y esa es la vía que las sociedades más prósperas emplean para asignar los recursos públicos y comunitarios. Tener buenas intenciones es necesario, mas no suficiente.

Por años hemos tenido un país con gobiernos deficientes y ciudadanos a quienes les falta ser empoderados. Ahora que comenzamos el tercer siglo de vida independiente, es momento de trascender a la sola remembranza de nuestra historia, de romper con los mitos que nos impiden evolucionar. Dejemos de ser ciudadanos que no le rinden, ni les exigen cuentas a sus autoridades. Comencemos a ser ciudadanos con iniciativa: críticos, propositivos y libre pensadores.

Ser un ciudadano con iniciativa es romper con los valores que no nos sirven para prosperar. Es comprender que ayudar no está peleado con hacer negocio, que ser exitoso no es sinónimo de ser corrupto, que innovar y registrar patentes es mejorar la calidad de vida en el futuro, que pensar diferente es un riesgo que vale la pena correr y que hacer dinero no sólo no es pecado, sino que es necesario aprender a hacerlo para construir un mejor país. Lo más importante de IMx es que pone su “granito de arena” para formar ciudadanos con iniciativa.

Presidente de Poder Cívico, AC