Judeophobia and the Jewish community in Chile: time for a new attitude?

Ricardo Israel

By: Ricardo Israel - 14/04/2024

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Today anti-Semitism in Chile is manifesting itself in a similar way to what happens in other countries, and after what has been observed in the streets, universities and the White House of the United States, few things can surprise me in relation to the attitude towards Israel and the Jews, but the truth is that what is happening in Chile is marking a before and after, so later I will allow myself to tell personal experiences.

The community is small, although the number is not always accurate, as many are not integrated or linked; others have lost their roots. In any case, the consensus figures range between 18,000 to 20,000, and what is faced today is unknown land, a new stage, difficult, complicated, different from what had been experienced or known before. By the way, there were anti-Semitic acts, but nothing similar to what has happened in recent years. Boric has been the first president to suffer from the oldest phobia on earth, Judeophobia, in actions and words, both with Chilean Jews and with Israel, but now, it has become present on the streets, that is, the snake is already has abandoned the egg, and history teaches that the genie is unlikely to return to the bottle.

There is hatred and harassment. By the way, it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli actions in Gaza nor to do so with the government and the person of Netanyahu, since it is enough to minimally follow the international news to see that this happens massively and frequently in Israel, but there is no doubt that the Hatred exists when Chilean Jews are blamed for what happens there, even more so when children and their parents are accused of genocide when they go to community facilities. Above all, Hamas terrorism is applauded and the elimination of the State of Israel is called for.

Everything is further complicated by the attitude of the government and a president who is not concerned about importing this distant conflict to Chile, the same one who lied after not wanting to receive the credentials of the Israeli ambassador, when he declared that "the Jewish community in Chile "You can rest assured, no one is going to be persecuted or intimidated."

However, what is happening in the streets of Santiago in the face of government indolence, the silence of the media and the political world, is a clear symptom that everything is going to get worse before it gets better, since the message that Jews are increasingly less welcome in their country, the only one that most of them have ever known, and where there are almost no voices outside the community that remember the contribution they have made to Chile, despite their small number, in practically every area of ​​national coexistence.

My concern is twofold because I am convinced that this unprecedented experience finds the community ill-prepared to face this challenge. Apparently, the representation structure that has been given to the country does not seem to be either, so I think the time has come for greater professionalization. By the way, there is the virtual impossibility of controlling what happens when Judeophobia breaks out in the streets and is organized by others. What can be done is the only thing that can be controlled, both the change of each person and the adaptation of the community to what is coming.

Can be done? By the way, other minorities have done it in Chile, and other Jewish communities have achieved it in the world, by facing challenges of a similar nature. The problem is that success is conditioned by changes in most people, internal changes that are never easy. That is, it not only refers to the preparation of future leaders, but also goes through a profound change in how we act at all levels, including education and preparation of young people for this new reality that they will have to live. Even more so, in the support of those who want to be active in social organizations or professional unions, and, by the way, in politics, just to cite a few examples, that is, something different from what exists today, perhaps because until now it was not necessary.

What is happening today is clearly insufficient, since for those who want to take these paths, support is fundamentally from family and friends, rather than from any structure, which even less exists to support those who aspire to be Jewish politicians who defend Israel in Chili.

With the experience of having participated for many years in university forums and in other places where I was invited, with the usual comment from non-Jewish organizers that the invitation was repeated to me due to the difficulty of finding people available to take on that defense. There, in the debates after the presentations, there were few voices that identified themselves as part of the community, understandable and comprehensible for what is happening, but precisely for this reason, there must be a change.

To begin with, I believe that a group of young people interested in something different is needed, since the simple cycles of talks must be replaced by a more serious and in-depth community preparation, with the rigor and demands of a good postgraduate degree and with hours of dedication, hopefully exclusive, scholarship holders for it, with the willingness to occupy every platform, no matter how small or large, and the commitment to prepare others.

What is experienced in the streets today also implies reorienting training in Jewish schools, from religious to just cultural, for what is to come, since today they probably feel intimidated, and, in fact, some of that is already being witnessed when they do their university vocational training.

If I mention this topic it is because I only studied in public education: provincial high school and the University of Chile, and in the case of high school, I remember how much it made it difficult for some classmates to publicly assume their Judaism. For years I thought that this was due to how small that community was, with only a few families, but I was also able to observe the same thing, decades later, with some of those who came to study at universities in the capital where I taught.

That must change with the new realities, since the previous attitude is a luxury that is no longer available, not so much for them, since, with Judeophobia already unpunished today, it will be others, colleagues, teachers, bosses in work, those that will remind them that they are not equal to others, or worse, that they are less equal.

For this reason, leaders will also be required to represent the community, especially well prepared both in understanding current Chile and what is happening with Jews in the world. Furthermore, with the type of impact that there is on social networks, including fake news, with good knowledge of Israel, supported by information about the history of the Jewish community in Chile, and well known enough to have access to authorities and media traditional communication; leaders, men and women, hopefully with preferential dedication and perhaps, paid to ensure that dedication. That is, leaders who not only have experience within the community, since the skills that will be required today have a growing relationship with what is happening in the country and in the world. It seems too ambitious, but it is necessary to face what is coming.

It is a necessary condition, but by itself insufficient, since we are only talking about some of the facets of a professionalization process, where the change that is required of everyone is to move from the current stage to a community structure that provides the tools for best possible defense of the community, with the purpose that there is an egalitarian future for Jewish Chileans, in the sense of being deserving of the same respect as any other group, the minimum requirement for the country where until recently they were happy, a fact so many times repeated in Jewish history, older and more continuous than any other.

The change in the country and the world will force everyone, individually and collectively. The community must support those who take the path of public life, which does happen today, it is above all out of interest and willpower, also due to family or friendship relationships. The idea is to create a structure that serves everyone, including the financial and human resources that allow each discriminatory case to be referred to national and, if appropriate, international courts.

I am not complaining or anything similar, I only intend to highlight situations that a professionalization process will have to worry about, if the need is seen, if there is the will to do so, and if there is the capacity to gather the resources, since It is not about handing out trophies or galvanos, but recognition to those interested must go somewhere other than merely testimonial.

It will even require attitudes and definitions that do not exist today either, such as publicly distancing oneself from those who appear from time to time to speak against Israel, or identifying as “Jews” only to criticize known Jews, simply because they differ from their positions. rather disruptive policies. It is abuse and manipulation, since, except for their surnames, in general, they are not known to have any community ties, no matter how much they studied in a Jewish school as a child.

The process of adaptation to the new realities will reach practically all activities carried out by Jews in Chile. Also to those businessmen and professionals who until now thought they did not need to do so, however, soon it will not depend on their will, since, in many places they will encounter those who will judge them as Jews, sometimes, only by their last name. , so they will increasingly have to choose between speaking or remaining silent.

In this regard, abstaining will be a rare luxury, since others will decide for them, whether they say it to their face or not. Some, as has happened in the world after October 7, will feel even more proud to be recognized as Jews, but others will want to go unnoticed outside of community institutions, living parallel realities. It will affect even those who today hold high positions, ministers or congressmen, who will not be allowed by external pressure not to give their opinion on Israel.

Some of that already happened and is happening, and for many it seems like the past that their parents talked about, but perhaps there are similarities for what the future seems to hold. With all the respect that the expression public relations deserves, it is today, exactly, only one stage or aspect of what is needed to represent the community, since the demands go further, starting with hardening the body against the animosity to be found.

I want to emphasize what I propose here, recounting for the first time, situations that I had to know in a career that exceeded four decades, fundamentally in the areas with which I had the greatest contact, as Dean of Faculty, Director of Institute and university teaching, media of communication (especially television and radio), politics (candidate for president of the republic, mayor of Santiago) and judicial (lawyer member of the Court of Appeals and Alternate Minister of the Constitutional Court).

Below are relevant situations from my past, but useful for what has been argued here.

The first, which for me has no explanation, is everything that surrounded my departure from the University of Chile, an institution that I loved very much and from which I never thought what happened would happen, since my departure was caused by the only application that I know of in democracy of a norm dictated in a dictatorship to intervene at the University of Chile. In short, the violation of rights was such that I denounced the State of Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, after the case went through the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in Chile. The Commission accepted my case, because it was also characterized by strong anti-Semitism, which before it happened was anticipated by a former Legal Director of the University, whom I simply did not believe.

In short, there were three instances, the Court of Appeals (where I won) and the Supreme Court of Chile (where I lost), but in both of them the fact was established that there was never anything illegal or even irregular in my performance. The third was the subsequent presentation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which held hearings and heard arguments, but the complaint failed to proceed to the Court.

Given the fact that anti-Semitism was present at all times, for me the most striking thing was that I did not receive support from the Jewish Community of Chile, perhaps because of the idea that there was none in the country. I was surprised that the only person who approached me was a vice president, who confronted me to express his annoyance.

It was a notorious and public fact at the time, and to this day I have no explanation why what happened in the Jewish community occurred, since there was no greater interest in the institutions, including those that frequently invited me to give talks about Israel. .

I had a similar experience of disinterest the two times I was a candidate for public office, where the attempts to meet with the President of the community to find out what topics interested them were also unsuccessful, which I compare with frequent invitations to evangelical groups and temples, where I presented myself as part of the people of Jesus, or in the presidential campaign, a couple of invitations from none other than the Catholic Cardinal so that I would know about the issues that interested his institution. Nothing similar happened in my community. I didn't insist either, I respected attitudes and decisions, but if I mention them it is because of the type of luxuries that in the future will not be available to anyone.

The list is longer, but for the sake of space I am only going to mention another fact, which had to do with the years that I had television programs, and my curiosity was great, when they invited me to a meeting of the advertising department of one of the channels. where I made international comments, since they wanted to inform me that by offering my space to an important company owned by Jews, they had been told that they had instructions not to associate with communicators who were identified with Israel, as they were owned by Jews. I was very surprised and of course, I could not explain it to people educated in the understandable error that one Jew always helped another.

My personal experience coincided with situations where I knew that some Jews with power, political or economic, did not seem to have any interest in being identified as such, which also happened to me with the owner of a higher education institution when I presented the idea of ​​offering there extension activities on the reality of the Middle East. He didn't respond and I didn't insist, since I saw him rather scared.

Therefore, I think that the really difficult change is one of attitude, since also in the media I could see that there were some well-known public figures who did not seem available to publicly defend Israel, which I always respected, it just seemed to me hypocritical, since, in meetings of community institutions, such as, for example, the Israelite Stadium, they generally presented themselves as true warriors of the cause. And the truth is that they were not really needed in that place, rather protected.

I do not blame or criticize anyone, since everyone makes mistakes, as I did by not taking advantage of the enormous echo chamber of a presidential candidacy. Although I was offered the platform to denounce or explain the issue of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I did not do so for various reasons, the predominant idea being to take advantage of the spaces only to disseminate the issues that differentiated me from other candidates, also, not want to victimize myself, since I did not do it with something as public as having been falsely accused before a War Council after the coup d'état, a situation that was cleaned up in democracy, although I assure you that the first time one is threatened with execution , one believes it. Nor did I do so with the abuse against my family, which ultimately led my parents to political asylum in the United States.

In this career, Judeophobia was rarely open, it was rather hidden, and perhaps for this reason, a former senator and former minister of the Constitutional Court, friendlyy advised me not to accept the presidential candidacy, even though I did not have any problems there. Instances of overt Judeophobia were rare rather than frequent. One of the few was in the Court of Appeals of San Miguel, since every time we joined the courtroom together, one of the judges gave me a caricature that he made of me, with the typical hooked nose of Goebbels' propaganda posters. The truth is that I never understood, and I told him so in a formal meeting, that nothing less than a judge of the republic could act like this.

The difference with what happens today is that what was exceptional will most likely become increasingly commonplace. There is no doubt that the demands are going to be different, for those who are part of the community as well as for those who speak on its behalf.

Will there be change? Will there be adaptation to new circumstances? Will it be a quick and orderly process? Will it be painful?

For much of the time that I was publicly present, I did not see a clear option in favor of supporting those who wanted visibility. I also saw many Jews in politics, universities, courts, media who wanted to appear publicly as such, and sought to do so. Hopefully they can do it in the future with community support.

I never gave an opinion against anyone, since I always believed that it was their right to choose the path they decided to take, but with what is happening today in La Moneda and in the streets, I don't think they will be able to have that prerogative, since The boat of anti-Semitism has already left the safety of the port, it is on the high seas without us knowing its next landfall, although it is a bad feeling to know that history shows what its destiny is in relation to the Jews, so the prognosis is not good.

The phobia is old, and for some reason there was a Nazi party in Chile in the 1930s, with representation in Congress. They were not Germans, but Chileans, but now it is different. The weeds have sprouted and are doing so in an organized way against the Jews and Israel.

Facing it will require a great effort, individual and collective change, which requires modernization and professionalization. The defense of the community and Chilean Jews must be done on other bases of active defense. Time is racing, and everything indicates that change is not going to be easy.

Additional reason to start as soon as possible.


-PhD. in Political Science (Essex), Law Degree (Barcelona), Lawyer (U. de Chile), former presidential candidate (Chile, 2013)

«The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author».