South American presidents react to the Israel-Gaza war

This article was republished from Connectas, a Global Voices media partner.

No other country in the world is home to as many people of Palestinian origin as Chile. It is estimated that in this South American country, there are more than 500,000 descendants of those who arrived at the beginning of the 20th century when their land was part of the Ottoman Empire. They started businesses, created social and sports clubs (such as Palestino, founded in 1920, which has twice been champion of the first division of soccer), and quite a few have dedicated themselves to politics.

Across the Andes, in Argentina, Jews began to arrive at the end of the 20th century in an influx that intensified after the Holocaust. Today they form one of the largest communities in the world outside Israel. They have also founded social clubs and there are Jews in the political, business, and cultural world. Even a recent left-wing presidential candidate, Myriam Bregman, is of Jewish origin. In that country, one of the largest marches in support of Israel took place this month, organized by the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the same Jewish community organization that suffered a brutal bombing in 1994).

Also, Argentina is possibly the Latin American country with the highest number of citizens victims of the Hamas attack. At the time of writing, eight Argentines died and 15 are disappeared (there were also reports of deaths, disappearances, and kidnappings from Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil). This partly explains why, after the latest escalation of violence that began with the terrorist attack on October 7, President Alberto Fernandez was one of the first to condemn the Islamist group and to express his solidarity with Israel.

I express my strong condemnation and repudiation of the brutal terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas from the Gaza Strip against the State of Israel.

May the people of Israel receive the full solidarity of this President and the Argentine people.

But not all Latin American leaders reacted in this way. The differences were particularly more noticeable among leftist leaders, due to the closeness that this segment has historically had with the Palestinian cause.

For example, in Chile, former communist presidential candidate Daniel Jadue wrote in X: “The people of Palestine have the right to resist. The international community has been silent for years in the face of the genocide and extermination of women and children. Surely the response of Zionism will be fierce. [The] solution to the conflict is to end the occupation! #FreePalestine.”

The left itself criticized his tweet and others like it for avoiding calling Hamas’ actions against Israeli civilians “terrorists.”

The Zionists and the right-wing forces of the world are the same. They dream that the answer to their hate crimes will always be resignation but there are no people who can resist injustice forever. Those who are willing to listen, will. #PalestineFree Only Solution #EndOccupation.

Isaac Caro, Ph.D. in American Studies, maintains that in general the countries of the region “have condemned the actions carried out by Hamas and while they have pointed out that Israel has the right to defend itself, they have rejected reprisals when they go beyond humanitarian law or beyond international law.”

However, there are significant exceptions: “In the case of Venezuela, its government explicitly defended the attack, and Nicaragua and Cuba have avoided condemning it. It is worth mentioning that these three countries do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.” Another special case is Colombia, whose president, after initially failing to condemn Hamas’ atrocities, “is threatening to break off relations with Israel because Israel cut off its security supplies,” Caro explains.

The statement made by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was the most commented for its oddity. The president said on public television that “Jesus was a Palestinian child, a young Palestinian, crucified and unjustly condemned by the Spanish Empire and by the oligarchies that dominated the area.”

Nicolás Maduro accusing the Spanish empire of the crucifixion of Jesus is undoubtedly the best thing we are going to see today.

Presidents Andrés López Obrador of Mexico and Gabriel Boric of Chile had much more moderate reactions. The former appealed for the restoration of peace and condemned “the use of force against civilians,” while Boric condemned both Hamas’ crimes against civilians and Israel's bombings in the Gaza Strip. He also maintained that both Israel and Palestine have “the right to exist.” Analysts have highlighted Boric's attitude as a positive sign of “cautiousness,” considering that the Chilean leader has been a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause since his student days.

Boric, in an important aspect of his attitude, took three days to issue a public statement on the conflict. This, according to analysts, underscores the difficulty faced by Latin American governments in delivering a stance on a conflict as complex as this one, with a terrorist group on one side and an Israeli government that, led by the ultra-right, has for years tightened its grip on the Palestinian population and now has had a disproportionate response affecting thousands of civilians.

After the attack on the Gaza Hospital that killed at least 500 people (for which Israel and Hamas are blaming each other), Boric wrote: “We call on the State of Israel to respect international humanitarian law. Just as we condemn the terrorist action of Hamas, we also condemn the indiscriminate use of force affecting the civilian population.”

Our solidarity is and will always be with the victims of violence, without distinction. We grieve for humanity.

We condemn without any nuance the brutal attacks, murders and kidnappings of Hamas. Nothing can justify them or relativize their most energetic rejection. We condemn (…)

For Sandra Borda, from the Department of Political Science of the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, the statements of Petro and Boric reflect two extremes of how to approach the conflict. “Boric has made it absolutely clear that he condemns the aggressions against the civilian population on the part of both Hamas and the Israeli State and has then demanded that international humanitarian law be respected (…) Other cases have been much more guided by the ideology of the presidents. I think President Petro fits into this category”.

According to Borda, Petro “has been very eloquent in criticizing and censuring the behavior of the Israeli state towards the population of the occupied territories, but has not said a single word about Hamas’ violations of the rights of the civilian population and extrajudicial executions of civilians.”

Borda shared on social media a letter in which Colombian politicians criticized Petro's omission to condemn the fundamentalist group's attacks. Petro responded to the scholar that he would sign the letter if it spoke of UN resolutions prohibiting the occupation of Palestine.

You know what Sandra? I would sign your letter immediately if you would say, without hiding it behind numbers of UN resolutions, which say the same thing, that the occupation of Palestine is forbidden, the apartheid between the Palestinian and Israeli people, and the rights of the Palestinian people are defended (…)

For Borda, the leaders should focus on protecting civilians. “It is much more convenient to assume a position like that of President Boric, of defending fundamental principles, and not in positions like that of President Petro, which base themselves on ideological beliefs.”

But, just as leftist leaders were criticized for not being clear enough in rejecting Hamas, are they now being questioned if they are slow or fail to condemn Israeli attacks on civilians?

In a newspaper column in La Tercera, Chilean journalist Daniel Matamala argues that we cannot overlook an important precedent. Those in power today have extreme tendencies: on the one hand the terrorist fundamentalism of Hamas and on the other the extreme right-wing ideology of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That is why Matamala stresses that this is not a soccer match where you can root for a team, because “those who massacred defenseless Israelis and those who massacre equally innocent Palestinians are basically the same. They are murderers. And when we thoughtlessly take sides, we play into their hands. They continue to prevail.”

The words of Argentine musician Daniel Baremboim, a citizen of both Israel and Palestine, were similar. Barenboim, who founded an orchestra with artists of both nationalities, wrote a column in El País in which he stressed that the atrocity committed by Hamas must be recognized, but also empathized with the pain of the Palestinians. He also details that in his own orchestra sometimes heated discussions take place, but they end “with the fundamental understanding that we are all equal human beings, that we deserve peace, freedom, and happiness. This may sound naïve, but it is not: for it is this understanding that seems to be completely lost in the conflict on both sides today.”

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