Kirchner evokes Shylock in talk of Argentina’s financial woes

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner made an anti-Semitic remark during a visit to a high school that has infuriated the Jewish community in Argentina.

Last week, Kirchner said that in order to understand the economic situation in the country, pupils should read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, a play by the Bard where Jews are described as scheming, vindictive, greedy money-lenders.

According to Haaretz, Israeli officials are aware of the comments, but have so far avoided responding to the incident.

Kirchner toured Lugano on Thursday, a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires which was instrumental in helping Kirchner’s preferred mayoral candidate. She then tweeted the main points of her speech. Kirchner has more than 2 million followers on Twitter.

In one of her tweets, she recounted how she asked children she met which Shakespeare play they were reading. The answer: Romeo and Juliet. “I said, have you read The Merchant of Venice to understand the vulture funds. They all laughed,” she tweeted.

“No, don’t laugh. Usury and the bloodsuckers were immortalized by the best literature for centuries,” she wrote in another tweet.

Vulture funds are funds that deliberately invest in companies or properties that perform poorly and may therefore be undervalued. They buy the debts cheaply, then sue the debtors, usually governments, for a higher price.

Argentina is trying to pay back debts to several such American-owned funds.

Kirchner’s connection between the funds and the play evokes a well-known anti-Semitic trope: that Jews control the world’s finances. By extension, her words could be understood as implying Argentina’s financial woes are the fault of the Jews.

The umbrella organization of Argentine Jews issued a statement expressing disdain with Kirchner’s comments.

She did not apologize. Instead, on July 5 she posted two tweets showing the program notes and an invitation from the Israeli Embassy in Spain to a 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.

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