Argentina’s Jews Riled by President Kirchner’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ Comments

The president has made some uncomfortable tweets about Shylock and aggressive investment funds.

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Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's Twitter page Credit: Twitter
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Barak Ravid

Argentina’s Jewish community is up in arms over President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s comparison of Shakespeare’s Shylock to the investment funds that have bought up the national debt on the cheap.

She made the remarks last week on Twitter, recounting a meeting with 10-year-old schoolchildren. Even though Israeli officials are aware of her comments, Jerusalem has not released a response.

Kirchner said that to understand the country’s economic problems, the children should read Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” who is depicted as a vengeful money lender.

Kirchner was speaking during a July 2 visit to Buenos Aires’ Villa Lugano neighborhood; she was campaigning for one of the city’s mayoral candidates.

After the visit, Kirchner’s Spanish-language tweets provided the main points of her comments to the school kids. She has more than 2 million followers on Twitter.

In one tweet, Kirchner wrote that she had asked the children which Shakespeare work they were reading, and they replied “Romeo and Juliet.” “I said, you have to read The Merchant of Venice to understand the vulture funds,” she tweeted, saying everyone laughed.

“No, don’t laugh. Usury and bloodsuckers have been immortalized in the greatest literature for centuries,” she tweeted.

In a New York court, the funds are demanding full repayment, even though Argentina has restructured its debts.

U.S. courts have ruled in favor of the funds and have forced Argentina into a technical default by not letting it pay off new, restructured bonds. Argentina is now trying to reach an agreement to solve the problem.

For centuries, anti-Semites have accused Jews of controlling global finance; in Argentina they are saying the Jews run the funds that are trying to extract payment from Argentina.

Kirchner’s remarks were well covered in the Argentine media and were harshly criticized by the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas — the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations. The country’s Jewish community numbers around 250,000, most of whom live in Buenos Aires.

The DAIA mentioned the anti-Semitic connotations of “The Merchant of Venice,” but despite the protests, Kirchner did not retract her remarks. In fact, in another series of tweets she lampooned the criticism by the Jewish groups.

To defend herself against the accusations of anti-Semitism, Kirchner tweeted that a friend had sent her an ad for a premiere of a play performed in Spain in June 2013.

“The play? The Merchant of Venice,” she tweeted. “The company performing? Habima National Theater of Israel.” Kirchner then tweeted that the production’s sponsor was the Israeli Embassy in Madrid.

“You can see that Israel likes good literature and the best theater,” she wrote. Kirchner concluded by saying that some people deserve a donkey’s head, as in another of Shakespeare’s works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which she recommended as well.