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May 24, 2018 1:54 pm

Major Jewish Group Petitions Chilean Government to Act Against Rising Antisemitism

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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The Chilean capital of Santiago. Photo: Victor San Martin.

The American Jewish Committee has filed a petition to the Chilean government asking it to act against rising antisemitism in the South American country.

“Under the banner of solidarity with the Palestinian people,” the petition reads, “the right of Chilean Jews to express support for Israel is being increasingly questioned and even denied. … People now find it hazardous to articulate pro-Israel positions in the public square. … Chile has long honored its diverse communities’ prerogatives to express their connections to ancestral homelands while remaining integral parts of society. Recent efforts to delegitimize and demonize Chilean supporters of Israel — attacks that can only be seen as anti-Semitic — are contrary to that national tradition, and cannot go unanswered.”

Chile has a Palestinian population of some 400,000 and a Jewish community of 20,000. A May 3 blog post published by the AJC outlines some of the problems that have arisen in recent years. “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), an initiative that seeks to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, is more solidly anchored in Chile than anywhere else in Latin America,” it stated.

In addition, “[d]uring an amateur soccer match between Estadio Israelita Maccabi and Club Palestino at the latter’s home stadium, the referee, Norman Vega, had to suspend the game due to the uncontrolled violence that ensued when hundreds of Palestinian fans invaded the field.”

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“In his official report,” the AJC noted, “Vega recalled how the Palestinian hooligans ‘threw cigarettes and bottles of water, and yelled racist insults at Maccabi players throughout the entire match.’ The referee himself was later attacked by a Club Palestino official, who came up from behind and punched him in the ribs. As a result of the violence, the Chilean soccer league imposed severe punishments on Club Palestino, suspending it from the competition for the rest of the year.”

Furthermore, Jorge Testa, a Jewish candidate for the University of Chile’s student council, was the target of antisemitic opposition. “The General Union of Palestinian Students (UGEP) launched an ominous campaign to boycott the candidacy of Testa,” wrote the AJC. “In a statement, UGEP explained that Testa was unacceptable because he is Jewish and supports Israel. It is unprecedented in Chile for a citizen’s religious or ethnic identity and support for his ancestral homeland to be used as a litmus test to judge his competence for holding a public position.”

Dina Siegel Vann, director of the AJC’s Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, told The Algemeiner, “The Jewish community of Chile is not under assault for practicing its Judaism, for articulating its connections to its traditions, Jewish education — that’s fine. The question is if you articulate support for Israel in the public square. That is the problem.”

Growing hostility toward Israel’s Jewish supporters, she said, was “becoming a phenomenon and a trend that we have been detecting for more than a decade, but because nobody has really said anything whether in government or in the media or elsewhere, the situation continues to grow out of hand.”

The source, she added, was “some young activists” in the Palestinian community who “have become tremendously vocal and aggressive, and they have a lot of clout in parliament, in the media, the Palestinian community are very rich and influential community, they own important media outlets, and they’re economically powerful, and some of them are supporting this type of discourse.”

“So the situation is becoming such that now the’ve gone beyond anti-Israel, anti-Zionist — even though anti-Zionism is antisemitism — they’ve gone beyond this anti-Israel critique focused exclusively on the Middle East,” Vann said. “For example, in one of the main avenues in Santiago, there was a sign that made an analogy between the Holocaust and what’s going on with the Palestinians in Gaza. This is not the first time that it happened. But of course, when there’s crisis situations in the Middle East it gets even worse.”

The problem, she stated, was “something that we’re seeing mostly in the universities, we’re seeing it in parliament, and we’re seeing it in the media.”

Asked whether the Jewish community felt the government was responsive to its concerns, Vann replied, “No. That’s why we’re doing this. The government of Chile is a very cautious government. It’s a very neutral government. It’s a government that’s tried to be equidistant. And to their credit. I mean you have 400,000 Palestinians vs. 20,000 Jews, they’ve always tried to be very, very careful. Taking both communities’ concerns into consideration, which is great. But this neutrality and trying to see things on an equal footing is not working anymore.”

The reason, she said, was the difference in the level of radicalization between the Palestinians and the Jews. “On one hand, when [the Jews] talk about the Palestinian issue, they’re always talking about peace and they’re talking about a two-state solution,” she noted. “On the other hand, the Palestinian side and these activists in particular have this idea, this attitude of a zero-sum game. It’s not like ‘Israel has the right to exist and we want a Palestinian state as well.’ It’s like, ‘Israel has to cease to exist. Israel is the occupying force, not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but since 1948. And it has to cease to exist.’”

“So it’s not equal,” she continued. “It’s not the same. And the Jewish community is not confronting the Palestinian community’s [use of] these aggressive and hostile terms, which is really putting the community in danger, which is why we’re concerned. Because the community’s starting to feel threatened.”

The growth of antisemitism in Chile, in Vann’s view, posed a danger to the country as a whole. “What we’re trying to do,” she said, “is ensure that not only the government but civil society in Chile sees this as a problem that is not affecting only the Jewish community. By importing this conflict and by putting it in the terms that the Palestinians are doing it, they are endangering democracy in Chile, inclusiveness in Chile. That is the message that we’re trying to convey, because we’re friends of Chile. We’re admirers in many respects of Chile’s record. But here we think that they have a problem.”

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