By ENRIQUE KRAUZE
Even though this is something that happened a few weeks ago, it is an issue that I don’t want to let go by unmentioned: Anti-Semitism has reappeared in Mexico’s public life, instigated by the powers that be. And the subject deserves a cautionary reflection.
“The day there is not a single Jew left in the world, there will still be anti-Semitism,” Marek Edelman, the last survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto insurrection, told me when I interviewed him in the fall of 1989. He was right. Anti-Semitism, understood as a historical prejudice against the Jewish people, is still a reality and may continue until the end of time. That very fatality is the main reason to fight it.
Its remote origin is the belief in the deicidal people. In the Middle Ages, the hoax spread that the Jew caused plagues or sacrificed Christian children to prepare Easter food with their blood. In the 19th century, the Okhrana (the tsarist secret police) concocted the libelous “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” about a cabal assembled secretly for world domination. These and other lies took root in the European and Russian soul. causing the martyrdom of generations of Jews in autos de fe, popular riots and persecutions. To these ancient hatred were added the mythologies of German nationalist romanticism and French racist theories. Everything finally converged in the mind of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.
One of the proud stamps of Latin America since the 19th century was having been a port of refuge for the persecuted from other lands (including the Jews). However, in countries like Argentina, there has always existed an anti-Semitism derived from Europe that author Jorge Luis Borges described as “a reckless facsimile that ignores the ethnic and the historical.” He was referring to the surnames of “Judeo-Portuguese strain” that abound in the region, proof of the Jewish origin of many Latin Americans.
The case of Mexico is illustrative of that same tradition of tolerance tainted by extremists. In 1924, then-President Plutarco Elías Calles expressly invited Eastern European Jews to come to Mexico. In 1936, Mexico condemned the persecution of the Jews in the League of Nations. The same sympathy was manifested in trade union circles and leftwing intellectual circles. However, Ignacio García Téllez, Secretary of the Interior under President Lázaro Cárdenas in the late 1930s, actively hindered Jewish immigration from Europe and that policy continued until the end of the war.
Anti-Semitism was, above all, the banner of the right. With the rise of Nazism, fascist organizations and shock gangs called “Golden Shirts” were formed that attacked Jewish shops and prevented street vendors from working. A sector of the press and public opinion and not a few militants of Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) supported the Axis powers. “The International Jew” and “My Struggle” circulated widely. The most unfortunate case was the openly anti-Semitic magazine Timón, paid for in 1940 by the Nazi Embassy and directed by the eminent intellectual José Vasconcelos (whose surname, by the way, is a clear “Jewish-Portuguese strain”).
Starting in the 1970s, after two decades of harmony around the Jewish issue (a combination of compassion for the Holocaust and sympathy for the State of Israel, or at least for its socialist roots), a leftwing anti-Semitism appeared on the continent, which is still active to varying degrees. But its characterization requires finetuning. Criticizing Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people does not imply an anti-Semitic attitude. In fact, liberal and leftwing Israelis themselves have seen the settlements as an unacceptable act of occupation. Yet behind many criticisms of Israel. there is an anti-Semitic emphasis.
One of the most outrageous manifestations of anti-Semitism is the invocation of Hitler to disqualify the Jews by amalgamating them with the Nazis. Applying the adjective “Hitler” to anyone other than the Nazi leader himself is already, in itself, trivializing the actions of someone who represented the will (50 percent fulfilled) to exterminate an entire people, to treat children, women, elders and men as plague and not as people. But to apply that adjective to a Jew is an act of extreme cruelty.
Anti-Semitism should have no place in Mexico. That power propagates it is a shameful denial of our cardinal values. Once again.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On June 30, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador raised international criticism when he publicly referred to a prominent member of the country’s Jewish community as being a follower of Hitler’s ideology.
The above article first appeared in Reforma and is being republished in Pulse News Mexico with express prior permission.