In Argentina, attempts to criminalise solidarity with Palestine have failed
On May 19, 2021, while the second week of Israeli bombardments against Gaza was taking place, member of parliament Juan Carlos Giordano took the floor in the Argentine Congress. In a brief speech, he denounced the "criminal bombings by the racist State of Israel", the murder of 217 people, including dozens of children, the demolition of a building with international press offices and a university library.
"That's why we chanted in the marches in solidarity with the Palestinian people: Zionist state, you are the terrorist," he recalled. He repudiated the Israeli ambassador in Argentina for assuring that "every democratic person should support Israel", which would mean supporting both the ongoing assault on Gaza and Israel’s policy of apartheid in force since 1948.
"The people support the Palestinian people, not Israel. Italian dock workers refused to load an arsenal that was going to Israel, an impressive internationalist workers' gesture," Giordano continued.
Giordano criticised the centre-left Peronist Argentine government for equating Israeli and Palestinian violence, recalling the so-called "theory of the two devils" with which sectors of the Argentine right tried for years to relativise the crimes of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
"Days earlier, while Israeli police harassed Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, police fences in Buenos Aires were simultaneously preventing a pro-Palestine solidarity march by the Left Front from reaching the Israeli embassy"
"How can we talk about two forms of violence when there is a genocidal state and an oppressed people?" he asked.
Days earlier, while Israeli police harassed Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, police fences in Buenos Aires were simultaneously preventing a pro-Palestine solidarity march by the Left Front from reaching the Israeli embassy.
Giordano has frequently used the same parliamentary rostrum for international denunciations in the past, from the persecution of Catalan independence activists by the Spanish regime to the siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo in 2016. On that occasion, he used language against Putin and Bashar Al Assad as harsh as that directed at Israel, demanding the severance of diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime.
This time, Giordano's words generated a counterattack by the Israeli embassy and Argentine Zionist organizations, which accused Giordano of "anti-Semitism". A widely circulated online petition demanded his expulsion from Congress, directly accusing him of being a "Nazi".
Here's how a history of dictatorship helped foster among Argentine artists solidarity and compassion for those under occupation in Palestine in this exhibition in Buenos Aires ⬇ https://t.co/xjklvwtxII— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) December 18, 2021
The smear campaign was capped two weeks later by a lawsuit from the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA) seeking between one and three years in prison for Giordano, invoking an anti-discrimination law that punishes propaganda based on theories of racial superiority.
DAIA alleged that Giordano had issued "an anti-Semitic message that clearly violates the postulates of the definition approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)," citing a widely controversial definition of anti-Semitism that is denounced by Palestinians for labelling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.
In addition to the denunciation of Israeli war crimes and the apartheid regime, one of the most irritating passages of Giordano's speech for the Israeli embassy was his position in favour of a single state in all of historic Palestine, of a secular, non-racist and democratic character, in which Palestinians and Jews could live together with equal rights.
The official endorsement given by the Argentinian state to the definition of anti-Semitism promoted by the IHRA came a year earlier, through a Foreign Ministry resolution. Thus, Argentina followed in Uruguay's footsteps. In January 2021, Guatemala would become the third Latin American country to endorse the IHRA definition, by means of a parliamentary resolution.
In the case of all three countries, only the initial paragraph of the IHRA definition, which defines anti-Semitism as hatred towards Jews, was adhered to. However, the Israeli government and Zionist organizations often present this endorsement as support for the doctrine of the "new anti-Semitism" that stigmatises and opens the door to the criminalisation of opposition to Zionism and Israel. This doctrine is reflected in the guide of complementary examples offered by the IHRA, most of which have to do with criticism of Israel.
In June 2020, a bill for adherence to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was presented in the legislature of the city of Buenos Aires. The motion passed with only one vote against, from the left-wing Autonomy and Liberty party. Two legislators from the Left Front, from the Workers Party and the PTS, actually voted in favour of adopting the IHRA definition.
They did not realise their mistake, since the text read did not include the complementary recommendations of the IHRA, therefore it did not mention Israel or Zionism. The following day, the two legislators rectified their vote before the legislature's secretariat and publicly clarified that they had made a mistake.
The Argentine Zionist Organization immediately threatened the legislators with legal charges of anti-Semitism, based on the IHRA's own definition.
It’s important to remember that Israel was an ally of the Argentinian dictatorship that began in 1976, one of most anti-Semitic and fascistoid regimes in Latin America in those years. Although the leaders of the main associations of the Argentine Jewish community did not publicly criticise the dictatorship, they were so concerned about official anti-Semitism that they contemplated the possibility of a mass evacuation and discussed it with the US and Brazilian governments.
"It’s important to remember that Israel was an ally of the Argentinian dictatorship that began in 1976, one of most anti-Semitic and fascistoid regimes in Latin America in those years"
Simultaneously, then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin's government sent fighter jets and other military equipment to the dictatorship, whose torture rooms were decorated with pictures of Mussolini and Hitler and where torturers made their victims listen to recordings of Hitler.
According to some estimates, almost a tenth of the dictatorship's 30,000 victims of forced disappearance were of Jewish origin. The role of Argentine Jewish organisations during those years was influenced not only by the anti-left ideology of their leadership, but also by their support for Israeli foreign policy.
Although they may seem distant events, it is a living history, refracted in its current actors. The Argentinian Socialist Workers Party (PST), predecessor of Socialista Left, Giordano’s party, suffered the disappearance of more than one hundred of its militants during the dictatorship.
Meanwhile Claudio Avruj, defender of Israel and one of the main spokesmen of the slander campaign against Giordano, gained notoriety as an official of the previous regime of Mauricio Macri for his denialism of the widely accepted figure of 30,000 victims of forceful disappearance during the dictatorship.
Only three months after the slanderous campaign by the Israeli embassy and its allies against Giordano, the country witnessed a real anti-Semitic attack. The far-right lawyer Alejandro Fargosi accused Myriam Bregman, then candidate of the PTS and the Left Front, of not singing the national anthem because it did not represent her.
The phrase attributed to Bergman was apocryphal, but Fargosi also related it to Bregman's "Jewish militancy". There was a generalized rejection of these anti-Semitic expressions, but PTS complained that the DAIA was slow to speak out and only did so after being criticized for its silence.
Like most of Israel's efforts to silence those who support the cause of Palestinian freedom, the slander campaign against Juan Carlos Giordano, with the intention of expelling him from congress, collapsed on itself.
A counter-campaign of international solidarity, in defence of the right to defend Palestine and oppose Zionism, obtained almost two thousand signatures from intellectuals, union leaders, politicians, human rights defenders and activists from dozens of countries.
"The tenacity with which millions of Palestinians defend their right to exist as a people is the greatest inspiration for the Latin American solidarity movement, a movement that still has much to give in the future"
The signatories included, among others, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Nora Cortiñas, founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo; US linguist Noam Chomsky; Ecuadorian indigenous leader and former presidential candidate Yaku Pérez; and Ali Kenanoglu, Kurdish deputy in Turkey.
The most moving support came from within besieged Gaza itself, from the Independent Union of Workers' Committees. The tenacity with which millions of Palestinians defend their right to exist as a people is the greatest inspiration for the Latin American solidarity movement, a movement that still has much to give in the future.
Just as until now the destiny of our peoples has been linked by the alliance between the US, Israel and the fierce dictatorships to oppress us, the future can bring a shared horizon of liberation.
Simón Rodríguez Porras is a Venezuelan Socialist and writer. He is the author of "Why did Chavismo fail?" and editor at Venezuelanvoices.org.
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