While Israel Lobby Blocks BDS in Chile at the Local Level, National-Level BDS Looms
SANTIAGO, CHILE — After the Chilean city of Valdivia became the first municipality in Latin America to support the non-violent Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement this past June, the Chilean government has now ruled that it is illegal to boycott Israel at the municipal level throughout the entire country.
The decision was made by Chilean Comptroller Jorge Bermudez Soto on Wednesday after a long legal battle initiated by the Jewish Community of Chile (Comunidad Judía de Chile) over Valdivia’s decision to boycott Israel.
In June, Valdivia unanimously adopted a measure that specifically declared the municipality as an “Apartheid Free Zone” and prohibited the city from working with any business that benefits or is linked to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and/or Israel’s apartheid policy that targets Palestinians.
According to the text of the declaration, the ban on working with such businesses would remain in effect until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine and dismantles the border wall; until Palestinians are granted fundamental human rights by the Israeli state and are treated as equals under Israeli law; and until the right of return of Palestinian refugees is granted, as stipulated by UN Resolution 194. The initiative had been personally introduced by the city’s mayor, Omar Sabat, who is of Palestinian descent.
However, Bermudez Soto – in representing Chile’s national government – determined on Wednesday that, though the Chilean Constitution gives local governments independence on some matters, the head of the Chilean state has the exclusive right to conduct relations with foreign powers. As a result, Valdivia’s boycott of Israel was determined to be illegal.
Bermudez Soto also went on to state that Valdivia’s boycott violated Chilean law for failing to treat anyone participating in a government bidding process in an “equal and non-discriminatory” fashion. Most importantly, Bermudez Soto noted that this decision applies not only to Valdivia but to all Chilean municipalities, making it illegal to support BDS at the municipal level in Chile. As a result, the decision has made Chile the first country in Latin America to ban support for BDS at the local level.
Bermudez Soto’s language in his decision echoes the four legal complaints filed against Valdivia in June by various Zionist organizations in Chile and abroad. The Jewish Community of Chile, which filed three out of the four complaints, argued that Valdivia’s ban on services linked to the Israeli occupation of Palestine or illegal Israeli settlements violated Chilean laws on equality as well as discrimination in economic matters.
Powerful Zionist forces made Valdivia a target
Unsurprisingly, the Jewish Community of Chile has praised the move, claiming that it is the first step in creating a “Chile free from BDS.” Zionist organizations in the U.S. — including StandWithUs, whose controversial behavior was detailed in a recently leaked Al Jazeera documentary — have praised the Chilean government’s edict as “an example for the rest of the world.”
The Jewish Community of Chile is one of the most powerful organizations of the Zionist lobby in Chile, as it is the Chilean branch of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), an influential international Zionist organization that regularly hosts events with the Israeli government and supports illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The group’s current chairman is David de Rothschild and one of its vice presidents is Argentinian real estate magnate Eduardo Elsztain, who is very close to controversial Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.
WJC, as evidenced by the presence of several billionaires on its leadership board, is extremely well-funded, with its U.S. offices alone reporting an annual revenue in excess of $22 million. Given the Jewish Community of Chile’s direct association with WJC, it is safe to assume that WJC helped foot the bill for the nearly six-month legal battle aimed at derailing Valdivia’s decision to support BDS in June.
Notably, without this legal action taken by the Jewish Community of Chile and other Zionist lobby organizations in Chile, the June decision to support BDS by Valdivia – a city whose population is under 150,000 – would have likely gone unchallenged.
Prospects good for national BDS action
While the declaration of the illegality of BDS support at the municipal level is being treated by Zionist groups within Chile and beyond as a “BDS fail,” other recent actions at the national level in Chile suggest that Chile could soon follow Ireland and become the next country to support BDS as a nation.
On November 27, the Chilean Congress approved a resolution demanding that the Chilean government “forbid the entry of products manufactured and coming from Israeli colonies in occupied Palestinian territory,” in a vote with 99 in favor and seven against. The resolution mandated that the government explore how a boycott could be implemented nationwide, an important step towards the future passage of a nationwide boycott of Israel. It also recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and accused Israel of being an apartheid state.
Given that the recent decision by Chile’s comptroller to make municipal support for BDS illegal relied on the lack of authority Chilean cities have in regards to foreign relations, the nationwide BDS law – which has a good chance of passing Chile’s Congress – could soon deliver a much larger victory for Palestinian rights activists — and one that could not be challenged on the same grounds that were used to nullify Valdivia’s support for the BDS movement.
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.