In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.
According to the Times of Israel, the incident revolves around a presidential visit to a Buenos Aires school:
In one tweet, Kirchner recounted how she had asked students she met which Shakespeare play they were studying. When they told the president they were studying Romeo and Juliet, Kirchner said she responded, “I said, ‘Have you read The Merchant of Venice to understand the vulture funds?’ They all laughed.
“No, don’t laugh. Usury and the bloodsuckers were immortalized by the best literature for centuries,” she then tweeted to her two million twitter followers.
Argentine Jews have responded with outrage at the obvious inference that the country’s economic woes are the fault of the Jews. In response, Kirchner pointed to the fact that Habima; Israel’s national theater has produced Merchant in the past.
Does that get her off the hook from the charge of anti-Semitism? Not at all.
Let’s concede that many actors and critics have defended the play from the charge of anti-Semitism by pointing to the multi-dimensional nature of Shylock, the play’s bloodthirsty Jewish villain. As he did with all of his characters, Shakespeare paints Shylock as a real human being with understandable motivations rather than a stock figure of villainy. The play is a brilliant creation filled with great writing and drama. But is also standing proof that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s claim that great art could not be anti-Semitic is false. Shylock may be a human being but he is also an archetype of the Jewish moneylender who exploits and victimizes innocent Christians. Shylock is not merely bested and humiliated by his Christian opponents who outwit him in his quest to gain a pound of Christian flesh in payment for a defaulted debt. He is also forced to endure the desertion of his beloved daughter who marries a Christian and is ultimately condemned and forced to accept conversion to Christianity. For all of Shakespeare’s great artistry, the play is drenched with Jew hatred and libels that have been used against Jews for many centuries. The Merchant of Venice is rightly seen as a symbol of the West’s lamentable heritage of anti-Semitism.
It is one thing for a theater company to attempt, as many have, to stage the play in such a manner as to challenge the anti-Semitic assumptions at its core though many observers contend any such effort is bound to fail in that purpose. But it is quite another for a national leader to point to Merchant as the model for understanding economics. In that content there is no escaping the conclusion that Kirchner’s only possible motive was to spread Jew hatred in the crudest possible manner.
We don’t have to learn more about Kirchner’s literary tastes to understand the depth of her prejudices against Jews. Her dealings with Iran and previous comments on social media are enough to damn her as a vicious anti-Semite. But this latest incident solidifies her stance in a way that no objective observer could possibly misinterpret.
Given the willingness of the Argentine government to make crooked deals with Iran and to cover up involvement in terrorism and perhaps even murder of Nisman, there may not be any way to hold Kirchner accountable for her actions. But foreign governments should draw the right conclusions from Kirchner’s Jew hatred and act accordingly. She may be untouchable at home but no decent foreign government should ever receive her as a leader. Until a person not tainted by the virus of anti-Semitism leads Argentina, it should get a cold shoulder from the United States as well as other nations on all issues.