Members of Congress Warn Blinken of Threats Facing Jewish Community in Chile

Bipartisan group of lawmakers say campaign of delegitimization against Israel may have crossed the line into outright antisemitism, ahead of presidential election in which a communist of Palestinian descent is a front-runner

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Chilean Communist Party's presidential candidate Daniel Jadue attending a campaign rally in Valparaiso, Chile, earlier this month.
Chilean Communist Party's presidential candidate Daniel Jadue attending a campaign rally in Valparaiso, Chile, earlier this month.Credit: RODRIGO GARRIDO/ REUTERS
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

A bipartisan group of U.S. members of Congress has this week issued a warning about the “dangerous climate” facing Jews in Chile.

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, three U.S. representatives charged that a “systematic campaign of delegitimization against Israel” in the South American country may have “crossed the line” into outright antisemitism.

The letter, obtained by Haaretz, comes amid growing concerns within the local Jewish community that Daniel Jadue, a communist candidate of Palestinian origin, who is known for his fierce opposition to Israel and has been accused by the Jewish community of antisemitism, could win Chile’s upcoming presidential election.

The election is scheduled for November 21, but if no candidate wins a majority, a runoff will be held on December 19. Jadue, 54, is considered to be a front-runner.

The letter is carefully phrased not to mention the upcoming election, so that the lawmakers are not seen to be meddling in the internal affairs of another country. But the timing is apparently no coincidence giving the recent accusations of antisemitism swirling around Jadue, the grandson of Palestinian immigrants who arrived in Chile at the turn of the 20th century.

A protest by pro-Palestinian supporters in Santiago, Chile, against Israel, two months ago.Credit: Esteban Felix/AP

It was signed by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Jewish congresswoman from Florida who previously served as chair of the Democratic National Committee; Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican congressman from Florida; and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican congresswoman from Washington.

Referring to recent events in the Middle East, the letter noted: “Militant leaders of the 400,000-strong Chilean Palestinian community, and their partners, from a variety of political parties, were quite aggressive during and after the Gaza crisis, burning Israeli and U.S. flags, brandishing Nazi symbols and accusing Israel of apartheid and Chilean Jews of controlling the media. This dangerous climate has been intensifying for many years and has already affected Chile’s social fabric despite alarms sounded by the local Jewish community and U.S. Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee.”

The official pretext for the letter is a bill drafted recently by the lower house of the Chilean parliament that would ban imports from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. It was spearheaded by the Chile-Palestine interparliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies. If it passes, Chile would become the first country in the Americas to enact what its opponents often refer to as “BDS legislation.” The boycott, divestment and sanctions international movement calls for nonviolent action against Israel to end the occupation, but has often been accused of crossing the line into antisemitism.

The legislation under discussion in the Chilean parliament does not refer to Israel per se, but instead to “territories occupied illegally.” A similar bill has been drafted in Ireland.

Referring to the Chilean bill, the U.S. congressional members warned in their letter to Blinken: “This will certainly have negative consequences for the present and future of Chile and many other nations in the region, and the wellbeing of their local Jewish communities.”

The letter urged the U.S. secretary of state to “send a clear and unequivocal message to Chilean authorities about the broad and dangerous implications that this BDS legislation poses for Chile’s relations with the United States, Israel, and the region as a whole.”

Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz visiting the scene of the building disaster in Surfside, Miami, last month.Credit: Jose A Iglesias/AP

Copies of the letter were sent to Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Senate President Yasna Provoste and Chamber of Deputies President Diego Paulsen.

Jadue told a radio station in Chile last year that media outlets in the country have been bought by the “Zionist community”. Gerardo Gorodischer, the president of the Chilean Jewish community, told Haaretz last month that Jadue had accused Chilean Jews of dual loyalty because of their attachment to Israel. “This is the type of talk that creates antisemitism,” he added. 

Jadue was included in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of “Top 10 Worst Global Antisemitic Incidents” for 2020. The center charged that, “using municipal funds to finance pro-BDS and anti-Israel activities, Mayor Jadue targets the Jewish community with pernicious smears echoing ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’”

The presidential candidate’s 1983 high school yearbook, which recently resurfaced, describes him as an “anti-Semite” destined to become “chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization” and to “clean the city of Jews.” The best gift that could be bestowed upon him, according to the blurb that appears next to his photo, was “a Jew to target.”

Last week, Jadue was asked by the lower house of parliament “to publicly and categorically deny” the statements made in the yearbook.

Instead of responding, he tweeted: “A country in the midst of a health and economic crisis, hundreds of deaths a day, families do not make ends meet. But right-wing MPs vote for me to explain what others wrote, in a school yearbook, 35 years ago! #Get Serious.”

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