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January 26, 2022 11:36 am

Could a Boric-Style Presidential Candidate Succeed In the United States?

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avatar by Irit Tratt


Victorious Chilean presidential election candidate Gabriel Boric addressing a rally after the vote. Photo: Reuters/Vanessa Rubila

On December 19, 35-year old Gabriel Boric won a runoff election against Jose Antonio Kast to become Chile’s next President. Throughout his campaign, the far-left progressive championed a socialist agenda which included rewriting Chile’s constitution and increasing government spending and regulation.

Boric’s ascendancy was supported by many in Chile’s Palestinian community, the largest outside the Arab world. Regarding Israel, Boric openly supports the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and has called Israel a “murderous state” on television. Upon returning from Chile a day after Boric’s victory, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, affirmed that “Chile is a very significant player in Latin America,” and “what begins in Chile does not end in Chile.”

Boric’s win cements the current rise of left-wing populists sweeping a region where poverty has reached a 20-year-high. Chile’s election also underscores the global reach of anti-Zionist politicians, whose attempts at disassociating their hatred of Israel with classic antisemitism have helped their candidacies across Latin America remain viable. Incidentally, normalizing said antisemitism in Chile may also serve as a portent of political events in the United States.

Boric’s anti-Zionism mirrors rhetoric used by several American politicians whose libeling of the Jewish state is used to invoke antisemitic tropes. This is the paradigm shift that permitted Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), last May, to condemn antisemitic attacks against American Jews in the same breath as decrying Israel’s military occupation. And its parallel in Chile saw Boric, upon receiving a gift from the Chilean Jewish community in honor of Rosh Hashanah, tweet about “a commitment to a more inclusive, supportive and respectful society” while also urging Chilean Jews to “ask Israel to return illegally occupied Palestinian territory.”

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Speaking to Haaretz, Yonathan Nowogrodski, former Chairman of the Zionist Federation in Chile, maintained that about half of Chile’s 18,000 Jews are unaffiliated. He speculates that the majority of them cast their vote in favor of Boric, whose focus on issues concerning the LGBTQ community and climate change resonated with a younger generation. Following Boric’s win, the Jewish Progressive Centre of Chile tweeted that “Today, Chile wakes up hopeful” while extending Boric a “brotherly hug.”

Given the dissonance between the ideological left and Israel, a candidate resembling Boric could well run for higher office in the United States, and might likewise enjoy the support of Jewish voters.  The Jewish Electoral Institute’s 2021 National Survey of Jewish Voters found that Israel is not a high priority among US Jewry. According to the study, only 4 percent of Jewish voters cite Israel as one of the top two issues Biden and Congress should focus on. Public shows of criticism of Israel has become more prevalent across several streams of Judaism; as Israel was contending with rocket attacks from Hamas in May, a prominent open letter signed by 93 rabbinical students called on Jewish institutions to rethink Israel advocacy that, they claimed, supports a “violent suppression of human rights and enables apartheid in the Palestinian territories and the threat of annexation.”

The prevailing view among the mainstream media and liberal institutions is to emphasize antisemitism through the lens of the far-right rather than the newly-emergent left. This thinking bolsters anti-Zionist lawmakers and must be confronted to cultivate a material response to antisemitism. During his campaign, Boric sought to link his opponent Kast to his late father’s alleged affiliation with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party. For his part, Kast has traveled to Israel twice and developed connections with conservative-leaning Jewish voters. Boric’s assertions also raised the question of whether Kast, who denied the allegations, should be held responsible for past familial associations if the claims hold true. (In the US, voters in California faced a similar conflict when Ammar Campa-Najjar, grandson of the mastermind behind the 1972 Munich Massacre, ran for Congress. While Najjar lost his races in 2018 and again in 2020, he disavowed his terrorist grandfather and received the backing of several rabbis in the community).

During Israel’s war with Gaza last Spring, antisemitic attacks in Chile were perpetrated by supporters of the Palestinian cause, not right-wing backers of Kast. They included anti-Israel caravans driving by the Jewish Community Center holding placards reading “End Israel Apartheid” and Palestinian groups standing in front of the Israeli Embassy in Santiago displaying signs with Nazi imagery. Yet Boric’s repeated propagation that Kast was “promoting hatred and fear in Chile” reverberated among liberal Chileans.

The ease with which such a narrative is fostered is due to right-wing antisemitism — both real and perceived — generating greater attention than Jewish hatred emanating from the left. Reflecting this trend is a 2021 survey on the state of antisemitism conducted by the American Jewish Community. Despite the latest surge in left-wing attacks targeting Jews, the study reveals that 49 percent of American Jews view antisemitism by the extreme political right as a “very serious threat” while 19 percent expressed a similar perspective when asked about antisemitism from the extreme political left. The tempered media coverage during the hostage standoff in Texas where a British Muslim, Malik Faisal Akram, terrorized four members of Beth Israel Congregation, also stresses this phenomenon.  

 The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism includes the targeting of Israel. Both the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS), of which Chile is a member, are among the dozens of countries and hundreds of organizations endorsing the IHRA definition. Yet approvals are only meaningful when backed by an honest implementation. The ideological left’s demonization of Israel demands a reorientation of how global societies think about and combat antisemitism.

In a 2016 interview, the late journalist Charles Krauthammer was credited with intimating that “if you get politics wrong, it’s the single most important area. Everything else pales in relation to getting politics right.” Present-day political realities may require leaning against lawmakers like Boric, Omar, or another future US candidate, even for those who would otherwise share some of their priorities. For their part, voters must be vigilant and discern when woke ideologies masquerade in intersectional bigotry rooted in hatred towards the world’s only Jewish homeland. 

Irit Tratt is a freelance writer and pro-Israel advocate. Her work has appeared in The American Spectator, The Jerusalem Post, JNS, and Israel Hayom. 

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