16 September 2006

Wave of anti-Semitism

The newspapers are speaking of a wave of anti-Semitism in Argentina. Página/12 says that's fueled by the U.S.; La Nación says Kirchner denies there's such a thing (implying there is, of course).

The facts are clear enough, though. A few weeks ago, Jewish community groups organized a march to protest Hezbollah's attacks before the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires. A group of nominally left-wing thugs called Quebracho blocked the protest, and burned U.S. flags (there's been a surge in U.S. flag sales in Argentina for this purpose, I'm guessing). Similar protests by the Lebanese community against Israel were not blocked by anyone. Quebracho is known for breaking and burning things wherever they go, and complaining when the police arrest any of them (which is not often) that they are held as "political prisoners".

In addition to that, a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli graffiti have sprung up in the outer walls of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in BA. Argentinians have a tradition of supporting the underdog (in this case, Lebanon), and many Argies understand that as attacking the "big power" (in this case, Israel).

There's a thread of anti-Semitism running across Argie culture, but it was found mainly in other spots (the conservative old-time high class, fundamentalist Catholics, the military, etc.). It appeared in the extreme left only when they made the connection Israel = U.S. = Bush = bombing innocent civillians for no actual reason. That's why you get anti-Israeli graffiti from the same people who stenciled the name of Dubya as "BUSSH" (or with the S turned into a swastika) onto walls when the Master of Dyslexia came to the November 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

Kirchner is having a bit of a hard time now, since the Jewish community is complaining that the government didn't stop Quebracho, didn't fight anti-Semitism enough, and didn't send soldiers to the peace force in Lebanon. He's going to the U.S. in days, and he's going to be pressured to break up with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who decided to include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his friends' list just to piss off Bush, which he calls "Mr. Danger". Chávez can get away with this because he's sitting on a pool of oil and the U.S. can't run the risk of destabilizing their main supplier.

Back to Argentina, it is simply not true that there's a "wave" or "grave" anti-Semitic incidents. Minor incidents are to be expected in Argentina, which has large communities of both Jewish and Syrian-Lebanese immigrants and their descendants. There are no neighborhoods where a Jew cannot walk around for fear of being attacked, as there are (I'm told) in some parts of otherwise tolerant European cities. Israel needs, however, to stop labelling criticism of their policy as anti-Semitism. Most people I know are not anti-Semitic, yet most of them equate Israel and the U.S. as criminal states. Conflating individuals with the state is not a good idea -- it's the road that leads to fanatical ideologies. Israel is not only the Jews, and the Jews are not only Israel, and today's Israel is not, I hope, what Israel will continue to be.

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