Published on 21 December 2021

Interview Crif - The President of the Jewish community in Chile, Gerardo Gorodischer, looks back on the presidential election

Chile is today in the news because of the election of new president Gabriel Boric, which made antizionist declarations. Crif interviewed Mr. Gerardo Gorodischer, President of the Jewish community in Chile, on the consequences of the election for the Jewish community in the country.

Crif : Could you tell us about the Jewish community in Chile and how are you organized ? What is your relationship with Israel ? Is Aliyah important for Chilean Jews ?

Gerardo Gorodischer : The Chilean Jewish community has 18 000 active members, it is the only community in the region that has grown in the last 20 years, thanks to the regional immigration from Argentina, Venezuela and Peru mainly.
The majority of the community is based in Santiago, even there are few Jews in each city of Chile, as Viña de Mar Concepcion and Temuco. Jews arrived in Chile in 1635. In the middle 1800 started an important immigration to Chile from Germany, Russia, Salonica, Greece and Monastir. They were looking for a safe place to live. They helped to build this country in the early years of being a nation. After this immigration, Chile received a second wave of jews running away from Europe pre-second world war and the Holocaust.

Then, in Chile, there are over 80 000 Chileans that have Jewish origins.

The umbrella organization is the CJCH - Comunidad Judía de Chile, which represents over 30 Jews institutions in Chile, 3 Jewish Schools, over 10 synagogues (Chabad, Aish ha Torah, Reforms and Masorti movement), a club and others. I can say that the community provides a very wide and diverse Jewish life and relationship within the community is good, we have a common goal which is to provide security and the possibility to live freely our Judaism for each member of the community.

We are a Jewish Zionist community, where the link with Israel is permanent and we work together to provide the best image of Israel, especially when we are living in a country that welcomes the largest palestian community (400 000), and very active on the Palestinian cause.

In general, a person who lives in Chile never thought too leave Chile to live abroad or always came back to Chile. Since 2019, after the social movements arise, the jewish community started thinking to make Aliyah, moving from 20-25 person a year to approximately 100 per year.

Crif : The Palestinian community in Chile is considered the largest outside the Arab world. What influence do they have in the politics of Chile, especially in the Chilean relations in the Middle East ?

Gerardo Gorodischer : The Palestinian community is very large in Chile estimated to some 400 000, the largest outside the Middle East. Most of them are Catholics who came escaping from the Ottoman Empire where Christians were persecuted.
That said, there is a part of the Palestinian community that is very radicalized and closer to Hamas than to the ANP, and with that group, there have always been tensions. During this election period we have seen anti-Isarelis actions promoting BDS in congress and pressuring the different powers of influence, trying to commit the different candidates to adopt their positions and support the Boycott of Israel among others, that is to say, they are very influencial and their pressures are permanently felt.

Crif : It seems the choice in this election was difficult for the Jewish community, between the extreme right and the extreme left. Had you met the two candidates ? Did you know them ?

Gerardo Gorodischer : The election was difficult for all the Chilean society not only for us. The big question is to try to understand why Chile arrived to take a decision between extremes and not somebody from the center where the majority of the Chileans belong to. Then, as a jew living in Chile and being part of the local society the answer is the same ; yes it was not the ideal scenario.

When we realized that both candidates had possibilities to pass to second round we started to work with their comities in order to oppen communications channels especially with Gabriel Boric's teams. In the case of Jose Antonio Kast, we knew him very well, he was member of the depute chamber Chile- Israel group. I believe that it is not appropriate to institutionalize the election or political positions, which could be very dangerous for the Jewish community, so we never did.

Crif : The new president has expressed a very anti-Israel position. What is his position toward the Jewish community ?

Gerardo Gorodischer : Gabriel Boric vision of Israel is very critic and is very influenced by his closeness with some members of the Palestinian community. It has not been easy for the community to listen to these speeches with very hard words when refering to the state of Israel, and not understanding with the Jewish community and its sentiment towards Israel, but recently we have worked in order to develop communication channels and the candidate has shown openess to know and understand better the situation.

We had a zoom, a few months ago, and he said that he sees a laic state with religious freedom, respect for the minorities groups, education freedom and no hate speech. Saying that, we feel that Gabriel Boric will respect us, as well as each Chilean. We will need to find the channels to share with him our vision regarding our life in Chile and our the relation between Chile and Israel.

Crif : Do Chilean Jews feel safe in Chile ? What future do you foresee for Jews in Chile ?

Gerardo Gorodischer : We feel globally safe for now, even if the antisemitism and anti-Israeli's feelings have grown.

We need to be prudent, in order not to institutionalize political positions within our community that could create a polarization between us. Today we have to be more united than ever, working for the Jewish community as a whole, regardless of the political color that each of us has. We must care for all the Jews of Chile.

The Jews of the world need each other, wherever we are. Our community is no exception. That is why I invite you to be cautious and understand that each Jew, regardless of his political or religious thought, is valuable to our people and, even more so, to our community.


To know more about Jewish community in Chile :

- Their website : CJCH

- On Facebook : Comunidad Judia Chile Oficial

- On Twitter : @comjudiachile