Javier Milei, Israel's extremist friend in Argentina
In the cold rain of Buenos Aires, one of the first protests against the recently inaugurated government of the ultra-right-wing Javier Milei took place on 19 December, under the slogan "Not in our name".
A banner of the Argentine Committee of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, made with the united flags of Palestine and Argentina, read: "The bullets that kill Palestinians, repress Argentines", in reference to the decades long repressive alliance between the Zionist and Argentine states.
The rally in front of the Foreign Ministry brought together left-wing activists and members of the Argentine Palestinian community to reject the fact that a week earlier the government had abstained in the UN General Assembly vote on the humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
In the Latin American and Caribbean context, only the right-wing governments of Guatemala and Paraguay voted against the resolution, while Panamá and Argentina abstained. For Argentina, this marked a change from the position of the previous government, which voted in favour of the 27 October resolution for a humanitarian truce, approved by an overwhelming majority.
"Argentina has historically been an ally of Israel since its military dictatorship, despite the regime’s intense anti-Semitism and harsh repression against leftist Jewish activists"
In response to Israel’s ongoing offensive against the Palestinian people, Bolivia and Belize have severed diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, joining Cuba and Venezuela which had previously done so. Colombia, Chile and Honduras also protested Israeli crimes by recalling their diplomatic representatives in Tel Aviv for consultations
The governments of Colombia and Brazil have described the Israeli attacks on Gaza as genocidal. Just this week, the government of Bolivia backed South Africa’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) case against Israel for genocide, after filing a request with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. The president of Colombia announced that he would support a complaint filed by Algeria with the same court.
No wonder that the coming to power of Javier Milei, a climate change denier, "anarcho-capitalist", misogynist and enemy of trade unions, at the head of a coalition ranging from the right to the far-right, was hailed by Netanyahu, who praised Milei as a "friend of Israel" and thanked him for his support in the "war" against Gaza.
Milei’s support for Israel is long-standing and was on full display during his election campaign, waving the Israeli flag at one of his rallies. Milei considers Israel an "example to follow" and promised to move the Argentine embassy to Jerusalem and declare Hamas a terrorist organisation.
Simón Rodríguez Porras on how Palestine solidarity in South America is not only a fight against Israeli apartheid but also US hegemony in the region.— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) November 9, 2023
📰 Read more: https://t.co/Lh1CKbW5Uh#Gaza #Gaza_under_attack pic.twitter.com/0ho14108ZH
This is part of a shift towards radical subordination to the US, the first country Milei visited after his election. He has rejected an invitation to join the BRICS bloc, to which Argentina had been recently admitted.
In domestic policy, Milei's banner is a fiscal adjustment program, which he calls the "chainsaw plan", with the objective of cutting state spending by $25 billion, around 5% of GDP, in order to sustain foreign debt payments to the IMF and other creditors.
According to Milei's estimates, this means subjecting the country to two years of a major economic contraction combined with high inflation. Will there be so much patience for this experiment?
The "libertarian" program is anti-democratic in both content and form: it is a reform of the State, with massive privatisations, an attack on labour rights, a tax reform to benefit big business, massive layoffs, and restrictions on the right to protest and union liberties, among other measures.
The presidential decree of December 20 with which Milei intends to take down dozens of economic regulation laws generated massive protests and has been challenged in the courts, which suspended the application of its labour related articles. A general strike has been called for 24 January by the two central unions against the decree.
Despite his bold behaviour, Milei faces a difficult few weeks. It’s not clear that he will be able to build a parliamentary majority, and the manoeuvres of his first weeks in power have already generated a significant rejection and weakened his support.
His ambitions outweigh his precarious political base, having come to government primarily as a result of a punishment vote against a Peronista government that to a great extent created and administered an economic disaster rather than enthusiasm for his "chainsaw plan".
Argentina has historically been an ally of Israel since its military dictatorship, despite the regime’s intense anti-Semitism and harsh repression against leftist Jewish activists. But this did not hinder Israel's arms sales to the junta.
"Milei has already promised harsh measures against social protests of all kinds, and the threat for those opposing Israel’s ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people is clearer than ever"
Today, the Milei government combines support for Israel with the presence of traditional defenders of the dictatorship, such as vice president Victoria Villaruel and even the appointment of a former neo-Nazi as treasury attorney.
Argentine Jewish intellectuals have dissociated themselves from Milei and warned that "political projects of similar characteristics in other parts of the world, identified with Israel, harboured in their interior clearly anti-Semitic expressions, and supporters of other forms of racism and discrimination".
In the four decades since the fall of the dictatorship, complicity with Israel has continued. Although the centre-left Peronista government of Cristina Kirchner recognised the Palestinian state in 2010, it had also previously signed in 2007 a Free Trade Agreement with Israel.
In 2020, Peronista president Alberto Fernández travelled to Israel, where he met Netanyahu and pledged to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, widely criticised for conflating criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, a decision ratified months later.
In the last decade, several Argentine provincial governments have signed agreements with the Israeli state-owned water company Mekorot, despite the company's complicity in implementing a system of apartheid against the Palestinian people and limiting water access.
The Argentine government has also attempted in the past to criminalise solidarity with Palestine, but failed. Milei has already promised harsh measures against social protests of all kinds, and the threat for those opposing Israel’s ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people is clearer than ever.
Unlike other Latin American right-wingers, such as Bolsonaro, whose support for Israel has been mediated by ultraconservative evangelical sects, Milei's links with Zionism and Orthodox Judaism are direct and are one and the same thing.
Though Milei is not Jewish, he has close ties to the Jewish community. A month into his administration, Milei was still living in the Hotel Libertador, whose owner is the Argentine-Israeli businessman Eduardo Elstztain, a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Hasidic movement, to which Milei is affiliated.
At the beginning of 2023, Milei said he was planning to become the first Argentine Jewish president, but then changed his mind and decided to delay his conversion until after the end of his presidency. Still, he regularly invokes religious texts in his support for Israel and its war on Gaza.
No one knows how long it may be before he changes his mind again or leaves office. But already, as much as in his "libertarian" economic thinking that he belatedly embraced, in his support for Zionism Milei exhibits “the fanaticism of the convert”.
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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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.