After a barrage of criticism, El Nuevo Día,Puerto Rico’s largest circulation daily, removed from its website the Jan. 8 anti-Semitic article by columnist Wilda Rodríguez titled “What Does the ‘Jew’ Want With the Colony.” In the column Rodríguez repeated the timeworn canards that Jews run the United States, and that Wall Street and the U.S. Congress “will do whatever the ‘Jew’ wants.”
The self-described “paper of record” of Puerto Rico has since published more than a dozen letters criticizing the column.
On Jan. 9 El Nuevo Día published an “apology” to anyone who felt offended, adding, “We don’t promote content that can be interpreted as anti-Semitic.” But the column, as Marcelo Wio pointed out in his letter published Jan. 13, is “classic anti-Semitism.”
“The premise that the Jews ‘control’ anything except the sovereign nation of Israel, which itself is a very turbulent democracy, is absurd,” said a letter signed by Rabbi Norman Patz and several other leaders of the Jewish community in Puerto Rico. The column comes in the midst of the social and economic crisis gripping the island, worsened by the recent hurricanes, they note, saying that “people are looking for an explanation.”
Jew-hatred comes to the fore whenever class tensions sharpen. The propertied rulers aim to turn workers away from fighting the capitalists’ dictatorship and scapegoat the Jews instead. Working people worldwide have learned bitter lessons in blood about this.
“The accusation is a crude distraction from the truth,” the community leaders wrote. “Blame the economic crisis. Blame Washington. But don’t believe the ignorant lies of the anti-Semites.”
A Jan. 18 editorial titled “Lesson Learned,” signed by Maria Luisa Ferré Rangel, El Nuevo Día’s editor and a member of the family that owns it, finally apologized for publishing the diatribe in the first place.
“The problem of Puerto Rico has nothing to do with the Jews,” Ferré said. But then she blames Puerto Rican workers for their problems. “We Puerto Ricans are responsible for being where we are, among other things, for accepting corrupt politicians, for allowing nepotism and for being indifferent to the inefficiency of the government. We are where we are for tolerating a government that spends more than it has and that has mortgaged the island for generations and a Congress that cares very little about what happens in Puerto Rico.”
But there is no “we” in Puerto Rico, any more than there is in the U.S. Puerto Rico is class-divided. On one side is the capitalist class, which collaborates with Washington to exploit the working class and benefits from the colonial relation. On the other are the workers, ranchers and farmers, who produce the wealth, and are waking up to the nation’s status as a U.S. colony. Working people are increasingly looking for a way forward in the face of the callous disregard for their well-being, demonstrated by the U.S. and local governments.
Columnist Rodríguez is a well-known advocate of independence for Puerto Rico. But the Jew-hatred she spews is poison both for the working class and for the fight for independence. It is aimed at diverting workers and others from seeing the real enemy: the system of capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination. And there are others, claiming to speak in the name of “anti-imperialism,” who sympathize with Rodríguez’s poisonous views.
Rodríguez is unrepentant as is shown by a Jan. 17 article she posted online titled, “About ‘The Jew’ that I Spoke Of.”
She claims that she knows the Jews better than those who have attacked her “because I lived among them, I worked with some and I combated others.”
More Puerto Rican working people both on the island and in the U.S. are coming to see that they suffer from being a U.S. colony. They are questioning the fitness of the imperialists and the Puerto Rican bourgeoisie to rule. There is greater interest in learning about Cuba’s socialist revolution. They can be won to emulate this example and join the fight to bring working people to power both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. To make that fight successful, it’s crucial to expose and combat the poison of Jew-hatred wherever it rears its ugly head.