There is a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Latin America in the aftermath of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza — and the most troublesome part of it is that it’s often fueled by racist propaganda in state-sponsored media.
Granted, there have long been isolated incidents of anti-Semitism in Latin America, much like in other parts of the world. But now, after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s self-proclaimed “strategic alliance” with Iran’s openly anti-Jewish government, there is a visible increase in anti-Semitic propaganda in Venezuelan-financed regional media.
It is feeding anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the region. In Argentina, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s populist government felt obliged to condemn anti-Jewish incidents on Wednesday, after well-known political activist Luis D’Elia — a former Kirchner official who is close to the government and close to Chávez — led rallies against Israel where participants held signs equating Nazi swastikas with Jewish stars of David.
Earlier in the week, a small group of anti-Israel protesters gathered in front of a hotel owned by prominent Jewish businessman Eduardo Elsztain and shouted insults.
“He was harassed simply because he is Jewish,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Latin American director, Sergio Widder, told me in a telephone call from Argentina. “This sets a dangerous precedent. Unless the government puts limits to this, tomorrow they will harass any other Jewish person.”
Justice Minister Anibal Fernandez said Wednesday that he has ordered an investigation into the incident, adding that it was “a crazy thing” and
In Brazil, a Jan. 5 statement by the Workers’ Party, the political party founded by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, claimed that Israel’s attack
on Gaza to stop Hamas terrorists from firing rockets against Israeli territory was “a typical Nazi practice.”
The statement made no mention of the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel in recent years, or the terrorist group’s official position
calling for the annihilation of Israel. But nowhere in Latin America is anti-Semitism as much of a problem as in Venezuela, Jewish organizations say. “We are seeing expressions of anti-Semitism in several countries in the region, but most of them come from marginal groups,” Dina Siegel Vann, head of the New York-based American Jewish Committee’s Latin American affairs, told me on Wednesday. “But Venezuela is the only county with a systematic campaign sponsored by the state.”
Venezuelan officials deny any anti-Semitic bias, saying that Chávez signed a November 2008 statement with the presidents of Argentina and Brazil condemning religious intolerance, “in particular anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism.”
But Chávez, who expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip, singled out the Jewish community when referring to the Gaza conflict in a Jan. 6 interview with Venezuela’s state-run VTV television network. “Let’s hope that the Venezuelan Jewish community will declare itself against this barbarity. Do it!,” Chávez told VTV, as quoted by the Spanish news agency EFE. “Don’t Jews repudiate the Holocaust? And this is precisely what we’re witnessing.” Chávez-backed regional media carry anti-Semitic — and not just anti-Israel — stories almost daily.
On Jan. 22, a story by Emilio Silva on www.aporrea.org called for “publicly denouncing, with their first and last names, members of powerful Jewish groups with a presence in Venezuela.” It also called for “publicly demanding that any Jew on any street, commercial center or public square,
take a position shouting slogans in support of Palestine and against the abortion-like state of Israel.” As I’m writing this, a quick look at the website of Telesur, the Venezuela-based regional television network owned by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Paraguay, shows me a story entitled “Gaza’s Ruins,” which accuses Israel “and the world’s Jews” of failing to denounce alleged atrocities by Israeli troops and “Jewish planes” in Gaza.
My opinion: I don’t dispute critics’ right to accuse Israel of using excessive force in Gaza, even though I think both sides should be blamed for
the tragic conflict there. But bringing the “world’s Jews” — or, for that matter, the “Islamic world” — into the equation of what should be treated
as a national-territorial rather than religious conflict, is nothing but blatant racism, of the sort that has helped create the climate for some of
humanity’s worst calamities.