BUENOS AIRES (Jun. 11)
Michelle Bachelet, the Chilean president who was elected earlier this year and recently met with President Bush, is looking promising to the Jewish community. Three of the 20 ministers whom Bachelet named to her Cabinet are Jewish, a high percentage in a country containing some 15,000 Jews out of a population of 16 million, said Ram Tapia Adler, executive director of B’nai B’rith Chile.
The three are Karen Poniachick, the mining minister; Clarisa Hardy, minister of planning and cooperation; and Eduardo Bitran, minister of public works and infrastructure. Bitran and Poniachick are members of the center-left PPD Party, and Hardy is closely tied with Bachelet through their work in the Socialist Party.
Adler said that the three are active and respected members of the Jewish community of Santiago, where 90 percent of the country’s Jews live.
Bachelet, who met with Bush on June 8 in Washington, became one of the first female leaders elected in South America without a family connection when she was elected president of Chile in mid-March.
Chile-Israeli relations are improving, with growing trade between the two nations. However, Chile has often voted against Israel at the United Nations and in other international organizations. Adler explained this as due in great part to the heavy influence of the Palestinian lobby in Chile.
About 550,000 Chileans are of Arab descent and of those more than 400,000 are Palestinians, he said.
“The Palestinians have tremendous economic and political clout. Five of the top 12 businesses in the country are Arab-owned. There are also 12 Palestinian congressmen,” he said, “who have formed an Arab caucus which is especially vocal on Arab-Israeli issues and Middle East politics.”
During the second intifada, they formed a powerful pro-Palestinian lobby, the Bethlehem Foundation 2000.
Adler added that there has been friction between the Jewish and Arab communities, with anti-Semitic propaganda “utilized by the local Arab groups, especially in times of heightened Middle East tensions.”