Weiser-Varon, Benno

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WEISER-VARON, BENNO (1913– ), journalist, author, diplomat, and university lecturer. Born in Czernovitz (Austro-Hungarian Empire), after the outbreak of World War i he moved with his family to Vienna. In 1938 he had almost completed medical studies. As a student he was active together with Teddy *Kollek and Ehud *Avriel in diverse Zionist student organizations.

After the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich, he left in autumn 1938 for Ecuador via Amsterdam and settled in Quito, where he succeeded in obtaining visas for his family and his fiancée. As one of the only European refugees to be proficient in Spanish, he was hired in April 1940 by the leading newspaper of Quito, El Comercio, to cover the events in Europe, on which he had a daily column, "El Mirador del Mundo" ("Observer of the World").

In 1945 he attended the first Latin American Zionist Congress in Montevideo and established close ties with leading Zionist activists in Latin America – among others Moshe Toff (later Tov). As a newspaperman he met for an interview in Buenos Aires Juan D. Peron, at that time Argentina's vice president. In spring 1946 he established, at the request of Nachum Goldmann, a regional agency for the Jewish Agency in Bogota. In June 1947 he was called to New York as acting director (for Tov), and later director, of the Latin American Department of the Jewish Agency. His main mission was to create and maintain Latin America's support at the un for the Zionist cause and later for the State of Israel. Weiser succeeded in securing Ecuador's crucial vote, on November 29, 1947, at the special session of the un General Assembly, in favor of the unscop partition plan for Palestine, the decision for the establishment of a Jewish state.

In 1957, as ambassador of the State of Israel, he represented the country at the inauguration of Luis Somoza Debayle as president of Nicaragua. In 1960 he was asked to take over the Israel-Iberoamerican Institute of Cultural Relations in Jerusalem and moved with his family to Israel. He reported on the Eichmann trial for several newspapers. In 1964 Weiser was appointed the first ambassador of Israel to the Dominican Republic and adopted, on the advice of Prof. Efraim E. Urbach, the name Varon, and in 1966 he was also named nonresident ambassador to Jamaica. As a result of the Six-Day War of 1967, Weiser was asked to proceed to New York to join the Israeli delegation to the un, headed by Abba Eban. When Paraguay was elected to the un Security Council for 1968–69, Weiser was appointed as the first Israeli ambassador to Paraguay. On May 4, 1970, the embassy offices in Asunción were invaded by two Palestinians intent on killing the Israeli ambassador. After shooting Edna Peer dead and wounding Diana Zawluk with five bullets (she survived), the invaders had no bullets left for the ambassador. Weiser-Varon terminated his diplomatic activities for the State of Israel in 1972.

In 1973 he moved to Boston and wrote articles for publications such as Commentary, Midstream, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. In 1986 he joined the department for Jewish Studies at Boston University, retiring in 2001.

Among his writings are El Mirador del Mundo (1941), Yo era Europeo (1942), Visitenkarte (1957), and Professions of a Lucky Jew (1992).

[Gabriel E. Alexander (2nd ed.)]