(JTA) – Sunday’s presidential primaries in Chile reduced the race to two candidates at the antipodes: a far-right Catholic leader with nine children who defended Augusto Pinochet’s iron fist, and a 35-year-old left-wing leader who represents a multi-year protest movement calling for a new Chilean constitution.

For many Chilean Jews, the choice is clear, even if it is vastly different from the way Jews vote in the United States: most support the right-wing candidate, José Antonio Kast, who is heading for a second round on December 19 with a slight lead over his rival Gabriel Boric.

As in most other Jewish communities in Latin America except Argentina, the majority of Chilean Jews are staunch Zionists who support more conservative leaders because of their perceived support for Israel.

And what has defined the public life of Chile’s roughly 18,000 Jews over the past two decades, according to several members of the community, is strong anti-Israel rhetoric from the left, which includes the country’s strong Palestinian community. of 350,000 people, the largest. outside the Middle East.

“There is a sense of siege,” Yonathan Nowogrodski, a 43-year-old engineer and decades-long community leader who identifies as a center-left Zionist, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

Since the Second Intifada in the late 1990s, the voice of left-wing pro-Israel activists has been sidelined by an increasingly well-organized Palestinian community, especially on college campuses, Nowogrodski said.

At the same time, the Chilean Jewish community withdrew from popular organization and public confrontation. Jews in the capital Santiago live mainly in the Barrio Alto, a luxury enclave away from downtown buildings, where the first Jews arrived at the turn of the 20th century.

More and more Orthodox, they live close to each other and their synagogues. Young Jews are seen as disconnected from the political and economic realities of a country shaken in recent years by social outrage led largely by student activists. They mainly attend private Jewish schools (mainly the Maimonides School and the Hebrew Institute) and only interact with non-Jews when they arrive at universities.

It is there, according to the executive president of the Jewish Community of Chile, Marcelo Isaacson, 55, that they come up head on what he calls the anti-Semitism of the left: public installations representing the dividing wall. the West Bank and Israel, calls for a boycott of Israel, the use of the words “apartheid” and “genocide” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and the discussion of a Zionist conspiracy controlling Chilean banks and media.

Yonathan Nowogrodski says many Chilean Jews feel “at odds” over the conservative social values ​​of right-wing candidate José Antonio Kast, but that they will always vote for him. (Courtesy of Nowogrodski)

In fact, it was as an academic activist that one of the most popular political leaders of the Chilean left, Daniel Jadue, made his debut. Palestino-Chilean who was, until June, a presidential candidate as a candidate of the Communist Party and who is still mayor of the municipality of Recoleta – a low-income municipality on the outskirts of the metropolis of Santiago – Jadue has was called anti-Semitic even by those interviewed. who identified themselves as leftists.

Although Jadue is no longer a leader of the left-wing coalition led by Boric, some believe he could win a cabinet post if Boric wins in December.

Juan Pablo Iglesias, 42, author of a children’s book (published in Spanish, English, Hebrew and Arabic) about a Palestinian and Jewish boy who formed a friendship through football, says he is deeply at odds with the prevalence of theories of the Zionist power plot among those in the circle of Jadue.

“Jadue has an explicit problem against the Jews, it’s no secret: he said the Zionist community is organizing everyone to vote against him,” Iglesias said.

In June, the Jadue high school yearbook page circulated online. Inside, his 1983 classmates wrote that the best gift they could give him was “a Jew to target.”

Descriptive paragraphs call him “anti-Semitic” and say he is destined to become “leader of the PLO. [Palestinian Liberation Organization], to cleanse the city of the Jews.

Jadue said he cannot be anti-Semitic because he is a “Semite” who comes from the Middle East and has a handful of Jews supporting him. Indeed, a small account “Jews for Jadue” appeared on Instagram.

Not all Jews agree with the account of how concerns about anti-Semitism have pushed Jews in Chile to the right. Nico Riethmüller, sociologist and director of the pluralist journal Diario Judio (Jewish Journal) which seeks to establish what would be the only Reformed community in Santiago, said the Chilean community is deeply conservative at a grassroots level, with anti-Semitism being highlighted. share – especially in comparison to Jews from Argentina or the United States.

“It’s a confusing situation, driven mainly by fear and confusion,” he said.

As in the rest of Latin America, Jews have been present in Chile since the days of the Spanish colonies. They were persecuted under the Spanish Inquisition and forced to hide their Jewish identity.

Chile’s first public minyan was established in 1906 by Jews who emigrated from the crumbling Ottoman Empire. The 1920s and 1930s saw an influx of Jews from Europe, and the community is currently around 70% Ashkenazi and 30% Sephardic, according to Isaacson.

Marcelo Isaacson, who heads Chile’s Jewish community, says young Jewish students face anti-Semitism from the left. (Courtesy of Isaacson)

During Pinochet’s brutal rule of the 1970s and 1980s – in which thousands of Chileans, mostly leftists and regime critics, were killed or imprisoned – Jews were not specifically persecuted and even institutionally prospered. However, the southern regions of the country have historically served as strongholds for neo-Nazism, with popular writer, diplomat and white supremacist Miguel Serrano Fernandez being the best-known figure.

Riethmüller argued that the Jews of Chile have moved to the right over several decades, alongside their economic rise and the influence that “Pinochetism” has left on society.

“[The leftist-Zionist movement] Hashomer Hatzair had 300 members in the 1970s, and not even 100 in the 1990s, ”he said. A local Masorti movement – closer to the modern Orthodox category in the United States than to the American conservative movement – developed during this period and now acts as a “mafia,” said Riethmüller, controlling Jewish community activities.

Nowogrodski disagrees with Riethmüller, citing what he calls the community’s growing openness to issues such as immigration, sexual diversity and abortion, issues that have been openly discussed in Riethmullers. ‘ Jewish newspaper.

For his part, Kast tweeted against allowing adoption by same-sex couples, wants to build a physical barrier to prevent migrants from crossing Chile’s northern border and praised family life on the “tragedy” of divorce.

“In the next election, many Jews feel at odds with the conservative social values ​​championed by Kast, but if given a choice, they would rather have someone friend of Israel as their president,” said Nowogrodski.


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