Pinochet, Israel and the Chilean Jewish diaspora

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The critics of Pinochet’s time, profiting from Chile remoteness and the scarcity of objective information, mostly play up the “phenomenal savagery” of the censorship and the high level of state anti-Semitism, in the form of abject hatred of the Chilean elite towards Jews in general and Israel in particular, and the Nazi sympathies of the Junta members. They boldly underscore how the enmity towards Israel was rare and abnormal for Allende the internationalist, and how it became legitimized and promoted by the “narrow-minded” generals.

pinochet and jewsThe first lie, concerning the brutal Chilean censorship, we will talk about another time; today let’s draw back the veil of history and take a look at the rightist Chilean anti-Semitism.

There was, indeed, in Chile some anti-Semitism of the most common, domestic, variety, especially in the 1st half of the 20th century, during a massive influx of the European and Russian Jews. It was not, however, supported by either the government or the Chilean businessmen, who sympathized with both the Jewish community and the Zionist ideas. There were Jewish relief organizations and charities. The first Zionist clubs opened in 1911, the “Bikur Cholim” (a healthcare foundation) in 1917. Some of the natives, the Judaizing Mapuche Indians of the “Hijos de Sión” organization based in Curacautin, participated widely in the life of the community. In 1919 two Jewish newspapers (Nuestro Ideal and Renacimiento) were being published in Chile, and also several Zionist organizations and a youth centre were opened. In 1922 a medical centre called Policlínica Israelita was opened in Santiago. The number of Jews in the country kept increasing from 1930s to 1960s, and the number of various national institutions as well; during that period were founded Comité Israelita de Socorros and Sociedad Cultural Israelita B’ne Jisroel. The year 1937 saw the opening of the Santiago branch of Bnei-Brit, and a year earlier the Sephardic Zionist Society. There were also various Ashkenazi organizations. In the 1940s opened the Santiago branches of Na’amat and Maccabi, the University Zionist centre was opened in 1950, and the Estadio Israelita club in 1952. In the year 1935 the Comité Pro-Palestina institution appeared in Chile, connected to several Zionist groups in South America. Similar groups and movements appeared at that time in Peru, Uruguay and Brazil. One of Comité Pro-Palestina leaders was Gabriel González Videla, an outstanding political character who played a prominent part in forming the modern Chilean nation, state machine, military and economic strategies. He supported the 1973 coup, and was an important role model for Augusto Pinochet. In 1947 Videla, by that time already the Chilean president, was pressurized by the Arab community in Chile into neutrality concerning the division of Palestine; however, not more than a year later Chile took a clear pro-Israeli stand.

From the very beginning there was a lot of cooperation between the two states. Starting in 1953 lots of important mutual aid documents were signed, concerning military, cultural, scientific, technological and infrastructural collaboration. Israel helped Chile develop the agriculture, prospect for minerals and study the water power resources.

The Chilean economic climate was also favorable for the Jewish diaspora. For instance, Solomon Sack Mott, a Jewish businessman and philanthropist, who immigrated penniless to Chile with his wife, Julia Rabinovich, and their daughters in 1914 from Lithuania, founded here a significant bank called “Banco Israelita de Chile”. He also founded a company called «Barraca De Fierro Salomon Sack», which still plays an important role in the construction materials domain. Additionally, he was an important figure in the education area, contributed financially to the University of Chile, started the Solomon Sack Foundation, and was, all told, a prominent player in the Chilean economy. His “Banco Israelita” is now “Banco Internacional” and is still an important financial institution in Chile. During Pinochet’s reign he was actively supported by the state resources, this included advertisements for his enterprises, for instance, in “Revista pro-patria”, a right-wing magazine published by the military. This magazine, dedicated mostly to the political analysis and current news, always had a place for a “Banco Israelita” ad in its pages.

In 1970 the Popular Unity coalition, whose ideology was strongly influenced by the communist ideas, won the election and Salvador Allende became president. Thousands of Jews left Chile for Israel, Argentina, USA, Spain, Australia and Germany. Some researches claim the number was as high as 8000 out of some 30000 living in Chile at the moment. This near-stampede is understandable: the strength of the Jewish diaspora lay in the upper middle class and the top class of the country, and would have borne the brunt the assault of Allende’s reforms. Add to this the pro-soviet, anti-Israeli terror units that had no love for the “bourgeois” Jews, whose interest lay quite far from the ideals of the communist revolution. Chilean foreign policy also underwent a transformation. Unlike Pinochet, who did not support the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism and racism, Allende supported the UN anti-Israeli resolutions. So it’s no surprise that Jewish industrialists, financiers and professionals abandoned Chile. They were, however, replaced by a wide stream of communist immigrants, many of them Jewish, ill-disposed towards Zionism and Israel. A Hungarian Jewish artist and communist, György Obermayer Rózsa, to give just one example, immigrated to Chile from Bolivia. Rózsa’s escape from the Stalinist Hungary in 1948 apparently taught him nothing, and, having lived in Bolivia since 1952 he decided to trade Hugo Banzer’s regime for the socialist Chile. (His son, Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, who was a famous mercenary and secret agent, deserves an article of his own).

The USSR invested a lot in Allende’s Chile; therefore, after the coup, the Soviet propaganda machine turned its full capacity towards demonizing Pinochet. He was to become a “Nazi”. It mattered little that right after the coup the “bourgeois” Jews started to return to Chile; or that there was an immediate improvement in the relations with Israel. Or that the “Zionism-racism” resolution received no supported from Pinochet, but 3 “ayes” from the USSR (USSR, Ukraine, and Belarus). Since when does logic have anything to do with propaganda?

To turn Pinochet into an anti-Semite, the leftists used three separate lies, all based on skillful manipulation of facts and interpretations. The first, was constructed around Gustavo Leigh Guzmán, the Air Force general and, indeed, an admirer of the German Nazi ideology. His political and economic ideas were very different from those of the other Junta members. He promoted elimination of all Chile’s communists, fascist-type economy, strict censorship and a Cold War type confrontation with pro-Soviet and capitalist neighbors alike. The Soviet lie omitted the fact that Gustavo Leigh was ousted both from the Junta and from his post as the Air Force commander in 1978, and replaced by the general Fernando Matthei. He lost his political influence much earlier, for instance, in 1974, when Chile came to the brink of war with Peru (which was then pro-Soviet), it was Matthei who, together with Pinochet, analyzed and solved the situation. Reported by the Soviet propaganda, all of this turned into “Pinochet hates Jews”.

The second argument for Pinochet’s anti-Semitism was the Judeophobia of certain Argentinian Junta members. The leftists advanced the brilliant thesis that, since some of the Argentinian generals believe in the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, the same is obviously true of the Chilean ones. That Chile and Argentina are separate and inimical countries interfered with this lie not in the least.

The third argument was no less ridiculous, though it was the only one based on facts. It is simply that the Nazi literature was not forbidden in Chile. The book publishers in Chile are private businesses. “Mein Kampf” can be freely bought in Chile even today, but only someone very dumb – or very unscrupulous – would infer from this the anti-Semitism of the Chilean government. According to the leading Israeli “Yedioth Ahronoth” newspaper, the government formed as a result of the 2006 elections was the “most Jewish” (i.e. had the most Jews in it) outside Israel. As for the publishers, they are answering the market demand. Lots of copies are not sold in Chile at all but go to Argentina and Peru. But the most important thing to remember is that Chile boasts the most freedom of speech, protected by the law which guarantees civic rights. Thus, the government very nearly lacks the power to forbid a certain kind of literature – or, for that matter, to extradite a fugitive without due process of the law, even when he is accused of Nazi crimes (which is what happened in the unfortunate case of W. Rauff). But calling the government a “Nazi-sympathizing” for not forbidding “Mein Kampf” is as idiotic as calling Sweden “an Ichkerian subsidiary” for not extraditing a Chechen agent to Russia, or calling Russia “a traitor heaven” for sheltering Snowden.

These, then, were the three lies upon which stood the myth of Pinochet’s anti-Semitism. Back to reality. During the time of the Junta, Chile had good relations with Israel. Pinochet, who promoted the unity and equality of all the people living in Chile, attended the Yom Kippur service in the main Santiago synagogue each year, without fail. The Chile establishment included a huge number of Jews, among them politicians (Sergio Melnick, José Berdichevsky, Marcos Zylberberg, Miguel Schweitzer Speisky, Rodrigo Javier Hinzpeter Kirberg); Shlomit Baytelman – one of the brightest stars of the Chilean cinema; Don Fransisco (Mario Kreutzberger) – a renowned TV host; et cetera. The most important agreements were reached during that time: Commercial and Economic Cooperation Agreement in 1982, Executive Program of Cultural Exchange in 1983, Arrangement on Air Services within and beyond the respective borders in 1982, Agreement on Tourist Cooperation in 1986, CONAF – Keren Kayemet Leisrael Agreement on Cooperation and Forest Technical Assistance in 1983, and more. The military cooperation also expanded and reached its current remarkable scope. For instance, in 2002 Chile bought the new F-16 C/D airplanes from the Israeli RADA Electronic Industries; in 2014 the Israeli “Galil ACE” assault rifle became the weapon of choice of the Chilean Army. Israeli weapons are always guaranteed the central stands in FIDAE (the international military exhibition held in Chile).

That there are sometimes outbreaks of hatred towards Israel in Chile cannot be denied. They can always be traced either to a quite influential Palestinian community, or to the left-wingers, who always tried to force their will, be it on Videla, on Pinochet, or on the last president, Sebastián Piñera. The latter – under the tremendous pressure of the Palestinian lobby and the leftist regimes of the region (Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru) – was forced to recognize the Palestinian State. The Communist Party of Chile, following in Allende’s footsteps, considers Israel a “state of terror”, as it was nicknamed in 2006 by Hugo Gutierrez.

These outbreaks notwithstanding, Israel and Chile are good partners and friends. There was a period of alienation during Allende’s “internationalist” government, and then, after Pinochet’s coup, the cooperation was resumed, expanded and brought about the most impressive results.

From my personal experience, Chile is one of the most pro-Israeli countries of the South America. It presents none of the Argentinian anti-Semitism, nor have I ever encountered here the dark-age Venezuelan Judeophobic rhetoric, hiding behind the mask of “anti-imperialism”.

Kitty Sanders, 2014

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