Chilean Jews slam President for barring Israeli companies from defense expo

Four former senior officers from the Chilean military issued a statement condemning the government.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

Chile’s Jewish community and a group of senior retired military officers were among those voicing condemnation last week of the Chilean government’s decision to exclude Israeli companies from a major aerospace and defense fair in Santiago next month.

The Latin American nation’s Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that Israeli exhibitors would be barred from the FIDAE 2024 show, which takes place from April 9-14, in a protest against the current war in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Chilean Interior Minister Carolina Tohá defended the decision, saying that “human rights are our first priority.”

The fair brings together defense officials and companies from more than 40 countries.

The announcement drew an angry response from the Jewish Community of Chile (CJC), which issued a statement accusing the country’s far left president, Gabriel Boric, of “importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into Chile without weighing up the consequences.”

Referring to the steep rise in antisemitism in Chile since the Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7 in Israel, the CJC bemoaned that Boric “has forgotten the thousands of Chilean Jewish compatriots in our country.”

It added that “antisemitism has manifested in an overwhelming manner in the country we considered as a copy of the [Garden of] Eden.”

Separately, four former senior officers from the Chilean military issued a statement condemning the government.

“The suspension of the participation of Israel’s defense companies in FIDAE 2024 produces serious strategic political effects, since our country is highly dependent on Israel for defense and spatial development, as the National Satellite System (SNSAT) in its entirety depends on companies from that country.”

The signatories — Brig. Gen. José Gaete, Brig. Gen. Osvaldo Sarabia, Vice Admiral José Miguel Romero, and Brig. Gen. Álvaro Guzmán — noted as well that the annual FIDAE fair had hosted “companies from Israel since its inception,” describing Israel as a “loyal trading partner of our country in defense matters.”

Israel’s Ambassador in Chile, Gil Artzyeli, also condemned the government’s decision, observing in a statement that the ban on Israeli companies was a setback to “bilateral relations of more than 70 years, not only in defense and security, but also in other areas such as water resources management, agriculture, health, academic exchange, science, and technology.”

Chile has emerged as one of the most hostile countries to Israel in Latin America in the wake of Boric’s election in 2022.

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Last November — less than a month after the Hamas atrocities — Boric announced that he was suspending diplomatic relations with Israel, accusing the Israelis of imposing “collective punishment” on the population in Gaza.

Boric has clashed with the Jewish community on several occasions over his inflammatory comments about Israel and Jews.

In 2019, while still in the opposition, he responded to a gift of a jar of honey from the Jewish community to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, by tweeting, “The Jewish community of Chile sent me a jar of honey for the Jewish New Year, reaffirming its commitment to ‘a more inclusive, supportive and respectful society.’ I appreciate the gesture, but they could start by asking Israel to return illegally occupied Palestinian territory.”

During his election campaign in 2021, Boric lambasted Israel as a “genocidal and murderous state.”

He also drafted legislation in support of the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) campaign targeting Israel, winning strong support from the 350,000-strong Palestinian community in Chile — the largest Palestinian diaspora outside of the Middle East and one with heavy political clout.

In Sept. 2022, Boric refused to accept the credentials of Artzyeli, Israel’s newly-appointed envoy to Chile, citing his anger at the shooting of a 17-year-old Palestinian during clashes with the Israeli army in the West Bank.

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