Neo-Nazi violence, a large and influential Palestinian community lobbying
against Israel and a growing hotbed of Islamic extremism in the north of the
country – the Jews of Chile have quite a lot to worry about these days, Shai
Agosin, the president of the country’s Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post
Agosin, who is currently leading a delegation of notable
Chilean personalities to Israel, said life for the 18,000 or so Jews in his
country is a little more difficult than it was when he took over from the
community’s former president Gabriel Zaliasnik in 2011.
Agosin’s concerns are the worsening ties with the 400,000 or so Chileans of
Palestinian descent, the largest such community in all of South
“If you compare the relations [between Jews and Palestinians in
Chile] today with that from 20 or 30 years ago it is very different,” said
Agosin. “Then you even had some marriages, but not anymore. We are very worried
over what we see in Twitter and Facebook over comments equating Nazism to
Zionism. Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.”
Agosin said Palestinian-
Chilean leaders like activist Daniel Jadue were responsible for radicalizing
their community against Israel.
Last year, for instance, Chileans of
Palestinian descent lobbied the government to recognize a Palestinian state
while the country’s Jewish community adopted Israel’s official stance that such
a measure would hurt chances of reaching a peace agreement.
back-room lobbying, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera eventually decided to
recognize Palestinian statehood but with caveats. Both sides declared
Despite last year’s political skirmishes with the Palestinian
community, Agosin said he made an effort to remain fair with regards the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, the delegation he is leading – which
includes Chilean politicians like Cecilia Perez Jara and television anchor
Antonio Quinteros – will meet with Palestinian leaders like PA Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad during their visit, in addition to Israeli ones.
faith people will see the facts and be able to make up their own minds,” Agosin
Another cause for concern for Jews in the South American
country is the influx of Middle Easterners to Iquique, a coastal town in the
north of the country. Agosin said immigrants from Lebanon and Iran have poured
into the free port located on the edge of the Atacama desert and that
authorities are worried it might turn into a center of Islamic extremist
“Last Christmas they found an Iranian rocket [in the city],”
Agosin said. “At the same time they also found a guy playing with chemicals and
when they searched his house they found Salafist materials. These are just two
There is a worrying precedent on the continent. Ciudad del
Este, a city in Paraguay near the border with Brazil and Argentina, is said to
have become a center of Islamic fundamentalist activity ever since thousands of
Lebanese Shi’ites made it their home in the 1970s and 1980s. Some believe
it was even a staging ground for the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Israeli and
Jewish targets in Buenos Aires. Agosin said secret services like the CIA and
Mossad are keeping a watchful eye on developments in Icique to prevent such an
While some dangers are new, a few older ones
persist. Last year a group of neo-Nazis in Chile brutally killed Daniel
Zamudio, a gay man, because of his sexual orientation. His shocking death
provided an opportunity for legislators to pass anti-discrimination laws
protecting minorities including gays and Jews from hate crimes.
three months they approved the ‘Daniel Zamudio law’ that was stuck in parliament
for a decade and we were very much part of that,” Agosin boasted. “I am proud of
the Jewish community because we were the only religious group working to pass
Agosin’s worries aside, the overall climate for Jews in Chile
is good, especially when compared to other parts of Latin America like
Venezuela, where half the country’s Jews left in less than a decade due to the
economy and the politics of President Hugo Chavez.
“The situation in
Chile is very good on the macro scale,” said Agosin. “You can’t compare Chile
with Argentina, Bolivia or Peru. We are comparing ourselves to Israel, Australia
and the US and this is a good thing.”
Agosin said the economy is even
attracting many Jews from neighboring Argentina to move to Santiago.
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