Anti-Semitism on Latin America's left is vile — but it doesn't make America's left 'anti-Jew'
COMMENTARY: The Latin left's bromance with an Iranian accused of bombing a Jewish center helps U.S. conservatives' efforts to paint liberals as anti-Semitic.
As if ditching her journalism career for politics gave her license to dump truthfulness, Republican Miami Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar has made a Politifact-load of questionable if not ludicrous remarks in her first year in Washington.
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Like her claim that in Pennsylvania in the 2020 election there were “200,000 more votes” cast than there were registered voters. Or her suggestion that President Biden’s immigration policies are responsible for increased child sex trafficking at the U.S.’s southern border.
But perhaps the topper was her absurdly sweeping assertion that “everybody that is a socialist” is “anti-Jew.”
“When you say socialism, you are talking about anti-Semitism in the same phrase,” Salazar said.
If you know her rhetorical schtick, the big problem with that statement – aside from being a lie – is that when Salazar says “socialism” she’s also talking about Democrats and liberals. The dog-whistle implication was that they too are “anti-Jew.”
Still, the only thing more shameless than Salazar’s generalization about leftists and anti-Semitism are the shameless leftists who give her an excuse to spout it. Especially those in Latin America – and especially those last week in Managua at the presidential inauguration of left-wing Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.
Ortega – who “won” re-election in November by throwing every opposition candidate in jail – made a point of poking the civilized world in the eye again by inviting Mohsen Rezaei to his dictator’s bash. Rezaei, Iran’s economic vice president and a former commander of the Iranian military’s notorious Revolutionary Guard, is accused in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
Hoping it would irritate the U.S., Ortega and Latin America’s other top left-wing bosses – Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel and Venezuela leader Nicolás Maduro – held a bromance photo op with Rezaei, whom they fawningly called “Brother Mohsen.”
More shameless than conservatives equating leftists with anti-Semitism are the shameless leftists who give conservatives excuses to equate them — especially in Latin America.
It was an all too familiar exhibition of what can at best be called the Latin American far left’s vile insensitivity toward Jews – and what is at worst that cohort’s brazen anti-Semitism.
In the past century, lefty loons like the late Argentine philosopher and Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole have held way too much sway with socialist “revolutionaries” like the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who counted Ceresole as a confidant. That influence often did and does rear its ugly head in Chavista culture. When the U.S. and almost 60 other countries recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president in 2019, many Maduro supporters called it a plot of the “financial Jewish lobby” they claim controls Washington.
A big part of this stems from the Latin American left’s self-image as a champion of the world’s underdogs – especially Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. But while the vast majority of Americans who oppose the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians don’t morph into anti-Semites (that’s right, Rep. Salazar, criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t mean you hate Jews) that line can sometimes get blurred on the Latin American left.
Maduro, for example, frequently rants that the U.S.’s campaign against his disastrous and dictatorial regime includes a sidekick “Zionist plot.” In Latin America that can be its own dog-whistle call to suspect Jews, as former Time Magazine Latin America bureau chief Peter Katel told me.
“The more moderate wing of the left still isn’t as developed there as it is in North America or Europe,” said Katel, who has watched the Latin American left for decades. “So you tend to get the whole package – anti-Zionism can more easily become anti-Jew.”
Which makes antics like last week’s Managua lovefest for Mohsen Rezaei – who, if the accusation against him is true, was deranged enough to think blowing up a Jewish community center in Argentina was an attack on Israel – all the more reprehensible. And potentially deadly. Last weekend’s armed abduction of Jews inside a Dallas synagogue was just the latest reminder that legitimizing terrorists encourages terrorists.
But there’s also a U.S. political side effect of what Ortega, Díaz-Canel and Maduro did last week. It simply encourages conservatives like Salazar to recklessly paint anyone to the left of them as anti-Semitic – the way they recklessly paint anyone to the left of them as toxic as genuinely toxic socialistas like Ortega, Díaz-Canel and Maduro.
And that simply trivializes genuine anti-Semitism.