Strong antisemitic comments appeared on Chilean websites after the arrest of a young Israeli tourist in connection with a forest fire that destroyed thousands of hectares in the Chile's Torres de Paine national park in Patagonia. The media reports that Rotem Singer, 23, a tourist from Israel, failed to extinguish burning toilet paper and that was allegedly how the fire started. If Singer is convicted, he could face up to 60 days in jail; however he denies any involvement in the fire and insists he is certain that the tissue paper he had lit had already been extinguished before the fire began. The authorities have ordered Singer to remain in Chile while an investigation is carried out.
The news that an Israeli Jew might have been the culprit for starting the forest fire immediately created an explosion of conspiracy theories over the internet, with many Chileans focusing intensely on on antisemitic explanation for the fire, but wondering what could have been the "ulterior motive" of "the Jews" to start a fire there. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that several Chilean news web sites "found" the reason for the arson in a 19th century antisemitic conspiracy theory known as the "Andinia Plan," according to which Jews want to gain control of the land in the Patagonian region and were carrying out this plan by destroying the ecological reserve.
The website Verdad Ahora ["The Truth Now"], which claims that the Andinia plan was launched in the International Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, gives ridiculous and absurd explanations on how the Jews are plotting to occupy Patagonia: "The plan is based on burning the region of Patagonia, so that the government of Chile […] would create a law to protect the area […] in order to declare the area 'under UN's protection' and then will allow the establishment of a Jewish State, as they did in Palestine."
Verdad Ahora also states that given the existence of the Andinia plan, it is therefore clear that the fire was set by the young Israeli, who was obeying the orders of the State of Israel. According to Chilean conspiracy theories, the State of Israel is financing trips for young Israeli reservists to go to Chile to take over Patagonia.
Chilean Senator Eugenio Tuma, who belongs to the social-democratic Democracy Party, and is President of the Commission on Foreign Relations of the Chilean Senate, also seems to support these conspiracy theories, even though he did not address the Andinia plan itself. The Senator recently claimed that the Israeli Government regularly sends military men to tour Patagonia, and stated that it is not normal that close to 10,000 youngsters who serve, or who have served, in the military will tour Southern Chile and Argentina as part of tourist plans paid for by their country.
Another Chilean MP claimed there were cases where active officers of the Israeli army accompanied or supervised these representatives, who travel in groups, because the government is aware that these are people who suffer from severe behavioral problems.
The truth is that many Israelis, after the Army, which is compulsory in Israel, take a sabbatical year, before starting university. Many Israelis go to South America, but many more prefer going to Asia -- but all at their own expense. The Israeli government does not pay for any trips. The truth, however, does not seem to interest Chilean conspiracy theorists, who are enthusiastically filling social networks with antisemitic remarks: "Shitty Jews," "Jews murderers," "Let's hang the Jews" and "Israelis commit genocides," among others.
Even the Chilean MP Fuad Chahin, who belongs to the Christian Democratic Party, was among those posting antisemitic comments on Twitter. The MP, in his personal account, questioned whether the young Israeli who has been accused of setting fire is really a tourist or actually an agent of State of Israel. "I bet that the Israeli 'tourist' who caused the blaze is one of those sent by his government after killing Palestinian children," wrote Chahin. The website Israel en Linea reports that some Chilean MPs were also heard saying that the "best punishment for the Israeli guy would be to hand him to Palestinians in Gaza."
The Israeli author Alberto Mazor wrote that as long as it was not known that the alleged perpetrator of the fire was a Jew, the Chileans were complaining about the government that did not act in time to stop the ecological catastrophe; however once there was the alleged involvement of a Jew from Israel, the demonization immediately started.
The Chilean Jewish community is now afraid of possible attacks against Jews there. Just a year ago, the ADL sent out a communiqué showing concern about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on synagogues in Chile. The ADL mentioned that in some instances, the graffiti included swastikas and the words "Juden Raus" (Jews Out). The President of Chile's Jewish Community and his son have received death threats.
As Mazor states, in time the park in Patagonia will flourish again with the help of forestry engineers. However, Mazor comments, all the water of the Pacific might not be enough to extinguish the antisemitism in Chile.