No, Chile Did Not Cut Ties with Israel

No, Chile did not cut ties with Israel. No, Chile did not suspend trade with Israel. No, Chile did not even impose sanctions on Israel. Chile temporarily suspended negotiations with Israel over a neoliberal “free” trade agreement. These are not the same thing.

Chilean congresspeople standing in solidarity with Palestine. CREDIT: Twitter

Chilean members of parliament standing in solidarity with Palestine.
CREDIT: Twitter

Rumors that Chile has “halted all trade” and “severed all ties” with Israel have been floating around the internet. Many have been accompanied by photos of Chilean congresspeople holding signs demanding an “end to the massacre in Gaza” and the “occupation in Palestine.” Virtually none, however, have been accompanied by actual evidence. Because there isn’t any. It’s not true.

The myth first emerged around 15 July, when Iranian Spanish-language network HispanTV published an article titled “Chile suspende negociaciones de comercio con Israel.” This title actually translates “Chile suspends trade negotiations with Israel,” not trade itself, but it appears some crucial details got lost in translation.

Immediately after the HispanTV report was published, activists, misunderstanding its contents, began tweeting that Chile has “suspended trade” with, and “seeks to expel its ambassador” from, Israel.

Numerous publications and blogs began reporting that Chile had suspended “trade relations.” It wasn’t long until people began claiming that Chile had “suspended all trade” with the country.

On 21 July, even Palestine’s official twitter account made the same mistake, tweeting “#Chile cuts ties with #Israel over its continuing massacres in #Gaza.”

Once again though, this is flatly false. Unless a decision has been made that has not yet been publicly released, this is a rather serious blunder—one committed even by an important Palestinian spokesperson.

The failure of ‘catchy’ headlines

Much of this misunderstanding can be attributed not necessarily to journalistic error, but rather to interpretational error. Many readers glean news by merely glancing at article headlines, ignoring their exponentially more nuanced contents (we’re all guilty of it), and there is certainly no shortage of misleading headlines—especially with Israel’s massacre in Gaza as of late.

On 17 July, Canadian underground publication rabble exemplified the slippery slope of sensationalist headlines in a piece titled “Chile Cuts Ties With Israel.” On the 21st, Global Research (never a publication strongly associated with editorial rigor and journalistic integrity) syndicated the column. For anyone skimming through news headlines, it would be easy to assume that this means more than it actually does. Those who make it to the first line (which is a much smaller percentage of readers than most people think) will see that “the Chilean government suspended free trade agreement negotiations with Israel over its continuing massacres in Gaza,” not “cut ties.”

The author of the piece, Ronan Burtenshaw, is not necessarily to blame. Virtually everyone in the world of journalism and writing is (often painfully) familiar with editors creating provocative, “catchy,” sometimes even inappropriate and/or ridiculous headlines. In an economic system in which profit is the arbiter of all, and in which said profit is generated through advertisements, article clicks are the most important metric, and sensationalist headlines (not to mention clickbait) are attractive.

Burtenshaw’s piece is actually quite informative. Its discussion of the history of Latin American-Israeli relations is important, and this important history oft’ goes unmentioned. It is significant that, as he points out, the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East—descendants of the refugees violently removed from their homes in Israel’s brutal ethnic cleansing—lives in Chile. Burtenshaw also points out that, in the past, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Cuba have all taken critical political steps to condemn horrific Israeli war crimes.

The importance of this article’s discussion of Chilean-Palestinian historical, cultural, and political interactions aside, nevertheless, only three of its paragraphs actually refer to Chile’s decision to freeze the negotiations. And the title of the piece contradicts what is communicated in these three short paragraphs. “Chile cuts trade with Israel” does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean the same thing as “Child temporarily suspends negotiations of a neoliberal trade agreement.” Sure, one isn’t a very hip headline, but at least it’s not false.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

The primary source in question, the HispanTV report upon which these rumors were made, does not divulge anything quite that groundbreaking. If you actually watch it, you will see it only states that Chile has temporarily suspended negotiations over its Tratado de Libre Commercio (“Free” Trade Agreement) with Israel. None of its interviews with prominent Chilean politicians suggest the country has taken any further steps. Patricio Vallespín, a member of Chile’s Chamber of Deputies, tells press (all translations are my own) “any advance of the free trade agreement with Israel is frozen.” Deputy Camila Vallejo—the renowned Communist Youth of Chile leader in the country’s turbulent and successful 2011 student protests—mentions Chile might “also explore possible sanctions on the state of Israel.” The chance that Chilean politicians might “explore possible sanctions,” however, is very different than actually implementing sanctions—which in turn is incredibly different than cutting all trade with Israel.

It is true that the featured representatives are hoping for some kind of more substantive action. Senator Alfonso de Urresti insisted that the “chancery [embassy] should take whatever action is necessary, including recalling its ambassador.” Fuad Chahin, a Chilean deputy of Palestinian descent, maintains that his country “cannot continue the same diplomatic relationships with a state that breaches UN resolutions, that violates human rights, and that does it with complete impunity.” Senator Iván Moreira, of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union party, is optimistic, claiming “the Left, the Center, and the Right are saying and demanding peace.”

Although this rhetoric is nice, we should not confuse it with actions. Until these desires come into political fruition, they are just words. President Michelle Bachelet did publicly criticize Israel, yet public criticisms don’t have teeth. In fact, on 10 July, the Chilean senate did request that she recall the Chilean ambassador from Israel, and she did not oblige.

Credit where credit’s due

Burtenshaw calls Chile’s decision to freeze negotiations on the “free” trade agreement a “strong stance.” Yes, it is certainly better than nothing, but let us not blow it out of proportions. For starters, negotiating a neoliberal “free” trade agreement—one that, like every other, will ostensibly enrich the already wealthy elite at the expense of the immiseration of the working class—is a fundamentally reactionary position. Temporarily suspending negotiations of a neoliberal “free” trade agreement is hardly much of a progressive decision we should be lauding, considering such a deal was even being negotiated with an apartheid state who flagrantly violates international law in the first place.

Last year, while Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian territories and barbaric siege of Gaza were still raging on (they don’t stop), Chile was already on board to “bolster economic ties” with the apartheid state. It’s great that Chile is now (in a small way) standing up for human rights, but it would be much less hypocritical if it always did it, not just when Israel is deliberately targeting civilians in a mass-murdering terror campaign.

It should also be mentioned that, while Chile is more seriously considering recalling its ambassador to Israel, Brazil already has. Israel, ever the childish sore loser, responded by calling the “economic and cultural giant” a “diplomatic dwarf,” and even went so far as to rub the country’s World Cup semi-finals loss in its face. (Think playground bully. But with nuclear weapons—and inexhaustible military aid.)

Other nations are not laughing. Ecuador has also recalled its ambassador to Israel. Even more strongly, Maldives has ordered a boycott of Israeli products and annulled bilateral agreements with Israel. Powerful Turkish businesspeople too recently joined the BDS movement, calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. In just three days, 111 Turkish universities joined the boycott. Over 100 hotels in Mumbai have even decided to boycott corporate juggernauts PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Kraft.

Walking on eggshells

The corporate media is not, and has never been, on the side of those who oppose the status quo. In any movement for justice, but especially in the movement for justice in Palestine, one must walk on eggshells in meticulous attention to detail and fact, while relentlessly and indefatigably demanding justice. Hasbara propaganda can (and does) lie regularly, the US corporate media can falsely identify Palestinian suffering as Israeli suffering, and the institutional legitimacy of the Zionist movement will not be called into question. Israel is on the side of power; it has a lot of room for lies, deceit, and distortions.

The movement for Palestinian liberation, as a counter-hegemonic movement, however, is watched closely for any slip-ups. Every single action and statement we make is under intense scrutiny from the Right. All it takes is one small mistake, and that small mistake will be amplified and disseminated throughout the press. The powerful have the privilege of being able to commit numerous mistakes and not being written off as a “dishonest” “fringe” movement. In movements that challenge power, mistakes are elevated to the level of crimes and wielded as supposed evidence of illegitimacy.

Social media are great at spreading information rapidly, yet they are only useful insofar as the information that they spread is accurate. When it is not, as in this case, it will only fan the flame of hatred and deception.

In a phenomenon somewhat like the “telephone game,” provocative headlines lead to assumptions, based on no evidence, which later morph into rumors that lead prominent internet personalities to share false information with their 119,000 Twitter followers.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who is to blame. What matters is that we learn from mistakes like this. When a rumor is so widespread that Palestine’s own official Twitter account tweets about it, we need to double-check our modus operandi of fact-checking. When evidence for breaking news is scant (as it tends to be for something that is false), we should be skeptical as to its veracity. There’s already more than enough evidence in our favor.

If Chile, a country with an over $330 billion GDP and approximately 18 million citizens, announced it was cutting all trade with Israel, it would be all over the news. The US corporate media can ignore a lot, but not quite that much.

Chile cutting ties with Israel would be an enormous victory for the BDS movement. BDS advocates should actually make it happen then, and not project their own desires upon reality.