Members of Argentina’s Jewish community and the Anti-Defamation League expressed outrage after President Cristina Kirchner compared investment funds contributing to the mounting national debt to William Shakespeare’s villain Shylock, in a perceived anti-Semitic slur.
Kirchner tweeted the remarks, made on a July 2 visit to a Buenos Aries school, where she told students that to better understand Argentina’s economic crisis, they should read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. One of the protagonists, Jewish moneylender Shylock, is portrayed as scheming, vindictive and greedy.
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 followers.
Vulture funds are funds that deliberately invest in companies or properties that perform poorly and are typically undervalued. The investment fund then buys the debt cheaply and sues the debtors, usually governments, for a higher price.
Argentina is struggling to pay back debts to a number of US-owned funds.
Kirchner’s connection between the funds and the play’s villain evokes a well-known canard according to which Jews control the world’s money. By extension, her words could be interpreted as blaming Argentina’s financial woes on the Jews.
Quién invitaba? La Embajada de Israel en España. Se nota q en Israel les gusta la buena literatura y el mejor teatro pic.twitter.com/IKk2eG5D0v
— Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) July 6, 2015
Israeli officials did not respond to her comments.
The umbrella organization of Argentine Jews, the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations, issued a statement condemning Kirchner’s comments and highlighting the anti-Semitic implications of invoking the play.
The ADL urged her to stop reinforcing anti-Semitic stereotypes. “We are deeply concerned that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is once again promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “The Merchant of Venice – with its nefarious character Shylock – reinforces stereotypes of Jews and present them as money-hungry, conniving and cruel, and by suggesting students to study this play, she is sending a message to Argentina’s youth that Jews are somehow connected to the economic woes of her country.”
Foxman added, “We stand with the Jewish community of Argentina in repudiation of the President’s statements and her repeated implications of Jewish involvement in this issue.”
A 2014 ADL poll in 100 countries found that 24 percent of those surveyed in Argentina harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, with 50 percent of Argentinians agreeing with the statement, “Jews have too much power in the business world.”
Kirchner did not apologize. Instead, she posted a number of tweets criticizing the DAJA and tweeted a program of an Israeli production of the Shakespeare play.
One such tweet showed an invitation from the Israeli Embassy in Spain to a 2013 production of the play by Habima, Israel’s national theater.
“The piece? The Merchant of Venice. The company producing? Habima, Israel’s national theater,” she tweeted. And in a consecutive tweet: “Who’s inviting? The Israeli Embassy in Spain. Notably, in Israel they like good literature and the best theater.
“Goodness. Someone deserves the donkey’s head, as Shakespeare did in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she wrote.