After Surprise Defeat of pro-Palestinian Leftist, Chilean Jews Are Feeling Calmer

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Chilean presidential candidate for the Communist Party Daniel Jadue casts his vote during the presidential primary elections in Santiago, on Sunday.
Chilean presidential candidate for the Communist Party Daniel Jadue casts his vote during the presidential primary elections in Santiago, on Sunday.Credit: JAVIER TORRES - AFP

The Jewish community of Chile breathed a collective sigh of relief on Monday morning following the surprising defeat of the communist party candidate – a grandchild of Palestinian immigrants known for his fierce opposition to Israel – in the presidential primary elections.

Considered a front-runner in the race, Communist Party candidate Daniel Jadue ended up garnering barely 40 percent of the vote in the election for leader of the left-wing bloc. He was defeated by Gabriel Boric, a former student leader considered more moderate.

Sebastian Sichel, also considered an underdog, beat out three other contenders in the race for leadership of the right-wing bloc ahead of the November 21 presidential election.

Newly-elected Constitutional Convention member Beatriz Sanchez, left, greets Gabriel Boric, presidential candidate of the Frente Amplio party in Santiago, ChileCredit: Esteban Felix,AP

Jadue, 54, has been active in the Palestinian cause since his teenage years. Leaders of the local Jewish community have charged that his disdain for Israel crosses the line into antisemitism.

Responding to Jadue’s defeat, Gerardo Gorodischer, leader of the country's 18,000-strong Jewish community, told Haaretz that it had “obviously changed the political scenario” and calmed concerns.

He said the Jewish community would be closely monitoring what, if any, role Jadue would play in Boric’s presidential campaign. He refrained from expressing support for either political bloc: “In the Jewish community we respect all political positions, as well as the different and diverse opinions and political positions within our own community," he said. "Having said that, we will always raise our voices against antisemitism, whether it comes from the right or the left.”

Gabriel Zaliasnik, a prominent criminal lawyer and leading voice in the Jewish community, said that Jadue’s defeat provided only “a bit of a reprieve” to the Jewish community. “Not only will he remain active in Chilean politics, but his strong anti-Semitic ideas have permeated widely. Through his systematic attacks on Israel — not on Israeli policy — he has advanced the agenda of delegitimizing the right to self-determination of the Jewish people.”

Instead of “celebrating” Jadue’s electoral loss, Zaliasnik said, “We should be more committed that ever to pursuing an agenda that revives goodwill in relations between Chile and Israel, and in which the Chilean Jewish community becomes a bridge between both nations."

In his 1983 high school yearbook, which recently resurfaced, Jadue was described by his classmates as an “antisemite” 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.”

With more than 400,000 citizens of Palestinian origin, Chile is home to the largest Palestinian community in the world outside the Middle East. Jadue, the grandson of Palestinian immigrants from the West Bank city of Beit Jala who arrived in Chile at the turn of the 20th century, is the first member of the country's mainly Christian Palestinian community to seek the highest office in his country.

An architect and urban planner, he has served as mayor of Santiago’s working class district of Recoleta since 2012. He made his first foray into politics as president of the General Union of Palestinian Students in Chile, and later became general coordinator of the Palestinian Youth Organization of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2020, he made the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Top 10 Worst Global Antisemitic Incidents” list. “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 organization wrote on its website. It noted that Jadue regularly makes a point of referring to the Jewish community of Chile as the “Zionist community.”

Commenting on the election results, Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said the organization was “relieved” that the left had voted out Jadue.

"This represents a clear rejection of Jadue's  extremist  rhetoric and behavior, including anti-Semitism, which poses a clear and present danger to the country's social fabric, the well-being of Chilean Jewry as one of its main components, and to Chile's reputation as a nation which upholds democracy and human rights as its core principles,” she said.

Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. members of Congress 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.

They did not specifically refer to Jadue, but growing concerns about his presidential prospects were clearly the impetus for the letter. 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.

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