These are exciting times in Chile. For the first time in our history, a new constitution will be drafted by a convention that is not only fully democratic, but has gender parity and representation for indigenous peoples.
A further boost to Chilean democracy is the presidential election due to be held in November. As in any election, debate is fierce. So much so that it has reached Haaretz, a newspaper based 15,000 kms away from Chile. As politically engaged Jews, we would like to contribute to that debate about the left in Chile, and about the suitability of the Communist Party's candidate for the presidency, Daniel Jadue.
Let us start with simple facts. As we write, there are at least three left-wing candidates. Many Chilean Jews, like us, support the candidacies not only of Daniel Jadue but also of Gabriel Boric and Paula Narváez. The reasons behind supporting one or another candidacy are those of normal everyday national politics.
The argument that Jadue is the only genuine left-wing candidate, the assumption of a recent Haaretz op-ed, flies in the face of the concrete evidence of policy proposals by the other two candidates. More gravely, it neglects the views of a huge group of Chileans who want change, but are doing so by supporting other movements, parties and candidates.
It has also been argued that when people raise criticisms against Jadue, they do so because he is a member of the Communist Party (Chile's Jewish Leaders Are Using Antisemitism to Bash a pro-Palestinian Leftist. Again).
We are under no illusions that in this country there is still a significant anti-communist culture, originating in the opposition to and brutal repression of left-wing parties during the Pinochet era and before, and that they will try any trick in the book to derail Jadue’s candidacy.
But there are also those who have long respected and, indeed, admired the contribution that Communist parties have made to Chile and Latin America more broadly. They are able to critically assess Communist candidates, based on their virtues and flaws, achievements and failures.
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The individual decision not to back Jadue cannot therefore be conflated with unmoored or regressive hostility towards the Communist Party. If we support other candidates, this has nothing to do with being anti-communists and all to do with how democracy works, and how a left-wing coalition needs to be able to build from different traditions, experiences, and organizations.
We do not support Daniel Jadue, not because he is a communist, but because he is an antisemite.
Already as a young university student, he prioritized his entirely legitimate support for the Palestinian cause over the necessity of overthrowing the Pinochet dictatorship. We have witnessed how he has constantly harassed Jewish activists and those who disagree with him with regards to Jewish issues. He’s been crassly disrespectful to Israeli diplomats and is constantly reproducing well-known antisemitic slurs.
Let us quote just two recent cases. In March 2020, in the Santiago neighborhood of Ñuñoa, Jadue stated that, “If you are born to a Jewish family, you may legitimately believe that you belong to the chosen people and are allowed to kill Palestinians to usurp their land.”
In July 2020, speaking to the University of Santiago Radio Station, he claimed, entirely groundlessly, that "some of the alternative media outlets emerging in our country are now being bought by the Chilean Zionist community." His fellow communist party member, and member of parliament, Carmen Hertz, retorted that his remark reminded her of the classic antisemitic tract, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
No wonder that by the end of 2020, the Simon Wiesenthal Center included Jadue among the highest profile antisemitic leaders worldwide. Then, more recently, we in Chile discovered that Jadue was already openly mocked back in high school as a rabid antisemite by his classmates: they joked in a yearbook that he would be happy using Jews for "shooting practice" and would one day "cleanse the city of Jews."
Jadue has yet to explain the origin of these remarks – or indeed to dissociate himself from them. At the end of June, the lower house of Chile's parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, took the unprecedented step of passing a motion, with 79 votes in favor and 47 against, reiterating its "absolute rejection of all kinds of discrimination and any act of intolerance" from candidates for public office, and formally requesting Jadue to "publicly and categorically" refute the grave antisemitic slurs associated with him.
Jadue's response was to belittle the charge of antisemitism ("[R]ight-wing deputies vote for me to explain what others wrote [about me], in a school yearbook, 35 years ago! Get serious!") and deflect elsewhere, effectively claiming that whether he was a bigot was less important than Chile's health and economic crisis, despite the fact that whether he holds racist views is directly relevant to his candidacy.
The country we want to build together requires that we respect the identities and contributions of all individuals and groups: indigenous communities, migrant groups, LGBTQ and religious minorities, women's rights and ecological concerns.
The ‘Chilean path to socialism’ has a proud history, embodied in the figure of President Salvador Allende. But Daniel Jadue’s antisemitic beliefs are disqualifying; they mean he is the wrong person to lead this new phase of Chile’s democratic story.
Tammy Benquis Hes is an attorney and active with the Jewish Progressive Center (CPJ Chile). Twitter: @tbenquis
Marcelo Carvallo is an architect and the former president Jewish Progressive Center (CPJ Chile). Twitter: @elmarcelo66
Daniel Chernilo is a sociologist and a graduate of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. Twitter: @danielchernilo
Mijal Fliman is an architect and a graduate of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement
Yonathan Nowogrodski is the former executive director of the Jewish Community of Chile. Twitter: @ynowogro