Chile's Boric's non-apology over Israel snub angers Jewish community

Chilean Presiden Gabriel Boric has not apologized to the Jewish community for what he said in a statement on a Chilean news channel.

 Chile's President-elect Gabriel Boric celebrates with supporters after winning the presidential election in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/RODRIGO GARRIDO)
Chile's President-elect Gabriel Boric celebrates with supporters after winning the presidential election in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/RODRIGO GARRIDO)

A message by Chilean President Gabriel Boric to his country’s Jewish community – that they do not need to be worried after his snub of Israel’s ambassador – had the opposite effect.

“I want to express to the Jewish community that they should know that like every Chilean and every person who lives in our country, no one will ever be persecuted or intimidated for their ideas or worldviews, unless they break the law,” Boric told television station T13.

Boric made the remarks two days after his refusal to accept the credentials of Israeli Ambassador Gil Artzyeli, when the latter was already in the presidential palace on the scheduled date. This sparked a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Santiago.

Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola apologized to Israel repeatedly for the incident, including to President Isaac Herzog on the sidelines of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral, and rescheduled Artzyeli’s accreditation for the end of the month.

Boric, who supports boycotting Israel and has a history of statements against the Jewish community in Chile, has not apologized.

 Supporters of Chilean presidential candidate Gabriel Boric celebrate after their candidate won the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/IVAN ALVARADO) Supporters of Chilean presidential candidate Gabriel Boric celebrate after their candidate won the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/IVAN ALVARADO)

What were the reactions from prominent Jews in Chile?

Gabriel Zaliasnik, a prominent member of the Chilean Jewish Community, tweeted earlier this week that Boric is “so good at asking forgiveness, except when it comes to the Jews. I’ll just leave that there.”

Gerardo Gorodischer, president of Chile’s Jewish community, argued that “when President Boric says on Sunday that, like all Chileans, we are not going to be persecuted or discriminated against, I think that unfortunately he is saying the opposite.”

"This generates anti-Semitism, it is something to see on social networks the increases in anti-Semitic messages since the diplomatic conflict began. Antisemitism in Chile has become quite virulent."

Gerardo Gorodischer, president of Chiles Jewish community

Not to be persecuted because of race, creed or ideas should be basic for every citizen, Gorodischer told Chilean news site Ex-Ante.

“If you say so, you question it,” said Gorodischer. "This generates antisemitism. It is something to see on social networks the increases in antisemitic messages since the diplomatic conflict began. Antisemitism in Chile has become quite virulent."

Zaliasnik expressed similar concern over Boric’s remarks in an email to The Jerusalem Post: “There is no need to say something obvious. No one should feel persecuted and should not need to be reassured about not being persecuted.”

Tweeted Chilean Jewish community vice president Benjamin Pupkin: “If we Jews in Chile break the law, whatever it may be, then will we be persecuted and intimidated?"

Zaliasnik also said Boric’s words could be understood as calling Jews “people who live in our country,” as opposed to Chileans, though he was uncertain if that distinction was intentional.

However, the European Coalition for Israel ran with that interpretation, in a letter asking UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call out Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for his Holocaust denial and Boric for antisemitism.

"President Boric has consistently displayed hostility towards Israel and the Jewish people,” said the ECI letter. "He has repeatedly singled out Israel for criticism, including accusing Israel of genocide and apartheid. Furthermore, he has characterized Chilean Jews not as Chileans but as ‘people who live in our country,' thus implying dual loyalty, and that Jews are somehow different from other citizens.”

A source connected to the ECI letter compared Boric’s formulation to former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that Zionists “don’t understand English irony” despite living in the country for a long time. Corbyn was dogged by accusations of antisemitism throughout his tenure as party leader, accusations that were later confirmed by the UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Boric invited Corbyn to attend his inauguration earlier this year.

When asked by Ex-Ante about Boric’s turn of phrase, Gorodischer said he did not know what the president meant, but that Jews are “Chileans who live here, but sometimes they treat us like foreigners.”

However, he said the comparison of Raisi and Boric was appropriate because the latter’s actions fit the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism by holding Israel to a double standard.

“At the same time that he did not want to receive credentials from Israel, he was receiving those from Saudi Arabia,” Gorodischer said. “If we are so progressive, we should first remember what is happening in Saudi Arabia against women’s rights... There is an inconsistency, and that type of inconsistency generates discrimination.”

The Jewish community president lamented that, contrary to other presidents, Boric “did not receive us before or after or during” his election.

“We are a minority and we deserve all the respect, just like other minorities,” he said. “No more, no less.”

Boric has taken action against the Jewish community

In addition to his open support for the anti-Israel BDS movement, Boric has taken action over the years targeting the Jewish community in his country.

As a legislator in 2015, he was one of only two MPs who voted against conferring honorary citizenship on prominent Chilean Rabbi Eduardo Waingortin, who has lived in the country since 1988.

In 2019, the Chilean Jewish community distributed honey to lawmakers in honor of Rosh Hashanah, with a card reaffirming their commitment to “a more inclusive, supportive and respectful society.” Boric tweeted the gift with the message: “They could start by asking Israel to return the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.”

In a subsequent virtual meeting with the Jewish community, he accused them of supporting a “murderous state.”