Honduras: claims and counter-claims over Zelaya anti-Semitism

It looks like we are in for a replay of the ugly flap that ensued following the anti-Semitic attacks in Venezuela earlier this year. The usual story: the conservative Jewish establishment makes charges against left-populist forces that may or may not check out; they are parroted without further corroboration by the mainstream media; they are summarily dismissed without further corroboration by left-wing commentators. Those of us who instinctively root for the left but cut no slack for Jew-baiting are left wondering what to believe. The below Oct. 4 report is from Ben Fox of the Associated Press, with our commentary and annotation interspersed:

Anti-Jewish statements raise concern on Honduras
A Jewish civil rights organization is expressing alarm over conspiracy theories claiming Jews and Israel aided the ouster of the Honduran president and attempts to dislodge him from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League cited statements made by ousted President Manuel Zelaya as well as the news director of a radio station that was closed by the interim government in Honduras and by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, among others.

Most of the comments repeat widely circulated rumors that Israeli soldiers – or in some versions, mercenaries – worked with the troops backing interim President Roberto Micheletti, allegedly supplying some form of tear gas used at the embassy and providing other assistance.

The interim government…has denied receiving any Israeli help or using any tear gas at the embassy. Journalists who have covered the political crisis say they have not seen any sign of Israeli involvement.

The Jewish group also criticized Chavez for claiming at the United Nations that Israel is the only country to recognize the coup-installed government, something Micheletti’s administration has denied.

So now Micheletti is denying it? The last time we checked, he was bragging about it. Which is it?

The ADL also cited an interview with The Miami Herald in which Zelaya said that “Israeli mercenaries are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.”

Now this sounds pretty wacky, but even if he really said it, it doesn’t necessarily constitute an “anti-Jewish statement.” More about this claim below.

“We know from history that at times of turmoil and unrest, Jews are a convenient scapegoat,” ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman, said in a statement released Sunday. “And that is happening now in Honduras, a country that has only a small Jewish minority.”

It’s statements like these that play into the boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome which paradoxically leads to insensitivity to real anti-Semitism. Foxman may have a case to make, but he hasn’t made it in the above charges.

Zelaya, responding to a copy of the ADL report sent to him in the embassy by The Associated Press, said he “profoundly respects people who practice other religions.” He and noted he had been criticized by anti-Semites for including several Jews in his Cabinet.

“As a human being and president, I call on all Hondurans to abstain from making any anti-Semitic comments,” Zelaya said in a statement.

Next, finally, we come to something more disturbingly substantial:

Among the remarks criticized by the ADL is a statement by David Romero, news director of Radio Globo, which supports Zelaya. On Sept. 25, commenting on the rumors alleging Israeli involvement in the crisis, Romero referred on air to the “famous Holocaust” and added that “I believe it should have been fair and valid to let Hitler finish his historic vision.”

Romero apologized for the remarks Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that they were “stupid” statements made in the heat of the moment and that don’t reflect his real views.

He said his grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Czechoslovakia who came to Honduras to escape persecution in Europe.

“I apologize to the Jewish community here and throughout the world,” Romero said.

Radio Globo was shut down and its equipment confiscated by security forces after Micheletti issued an emergency decree banning large-scale demonstrations and limiting civil liberties, including freedom of the press. The interim president, who has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad over the restrictions, is expected to decide Monday whether to lift the decree.

This outburst doesn’t inspire a lot of faith in Romero or Radio Globo, but at least his apology was forthright—in contrast to the weasily psuedo-apologies usually employed by cornered Jew-haters.

ADL makes matters worse—as usual
OK, now let’s turn to some of the sources cited in the above article. The ADL’s own Oct. 1 press release on the report provides the following bullet points as evidence of an anti-Semitic backlash in Honduras:

False allegations by President Zelaya that “Israeli mercenaries” are trying to assassinate him

Zelaya may not have provided any evidence that the claims about Israeli mercenaries are true, but neither does ADL provide any evidence that they are “false.” Of course the burden of proof is on Zelaya, but it would still be fairer for ADL to say “unsubstantiated” than “false.”

False claims by President Chavez of Venezuela and other Zelaya supporters that Israel was the only country in the world to recognize Micheletti’s de facto government

Nobody has yet clarified what the truth of this claim really is. Is it “false” because there are one or two other countries that have recognized the coup regime? (Micheletti’s original statement boasted of recognition from Israel and Taiwan.) Or is it false because Israel is withholding recognition?

Remarks by David Romero, Executive Director of Radio Globo, claiming that “officers of the Jewish army” are working in conspiracy with the Armed Forces in Honduras. His remarks were reportedly challenged by Adolfo Facusse, president of the National Industrial Association in Tegucigalpa, who stated, “Jews are our cousins and we will not tolerate such language.”

Leave it to the ADL to pose the conservative industrialist Adolfo Facussé (who most recently called for a foreign intervention force to occupy Honduras) as the defender of Jewish dignity!

Zelaya joins tin-foil hat set?
Next, let’s turn to Frances Robles‘ Sept. 24 Miami Herald story where Zelaya’s supposed claims about radiation-poisoning were first reported:

TEGUCIGALPA—It’s been 89 days since Manuel Zelaya was booted from power. He’s sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and “Israeli mercenaries” are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.

“We are being threatened with death,” he said in an interview with The Miami Herald, adding that mercenaries were likely to storm the embassy where he has been holed up since Monday and assassinate him.

“I prefer to march on my feet than to live on my knees before a military dictatorship,” Zelaya said in a series of back-to-back interviews.

Zelaya was deposed at gunpoint on June 28 and slipped back into his country on Monday, just two days before he was scheduled to speak before the United Nations. He sought refuge at the Brazilian Embassy, where Zelaya said he is being subjected to toxic gases and radiation that alter his physical and mental state.

Witnesses said that for a short time Tuesday morning, soldiers used a device that looked like a large satellite dish to emit a loud shrill noise.

Honduran police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said he knew nothing of any radiation devices being used against the former president.

“He says there are mercenaries against him? Using some kind of apparatus?” Cerrato said. “No, no, no, no. Sincerely: no. The only elements surrounding that embassy are police and military, and they have no such apparatus.”

Up in the left wing of the peanut gallery, Wayne Madsen, himself a perennial fave of the conspiracy set, challenges the Herald’s report on the Chávez-friendly VHeadline Sept. 29:

The Herald reported on a telephone interview with Zelaya and said the Honduran leader said he was being subjected to “high-frequency radiation” from Israeli mercenaries who are supporting the Honduran junta. The paper also reported that Zelaya said that the Israelis were using “mind-altering” gas and radiation.

In actuality, that is not what Zelaya stated in his conversation on September 24 with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was attending the UN General Assembly session in New York.

Chavez said he spoke to Zelaya by phone at 1:00 pm EDT and the Honduran leader said a piece of equipment on the rooftop of a neighboring home had been recovered and brought into the embassy by Zelaya loyalists. When Zelaya checked the gear’s serial number on the Internet, it turned out the equipment was a cell phone jamming device manufactured in Israel.

What Zelaya stated to Chavez and presumably to the Miami Herald is that the junta and its Israeli private security company advisers were jamming the cell phones of those holed up inside the embassy. Zelaya never spoke of radiation death rays but that is the impression the Herald gave and it was quickly picked up by various neocon and Zionist-controlled media outlets, including the usual suspects that continuously debase this web publication, to describe Zelaya as an anti-Semitic lunatic.

There are three very obvious problems with Madsen’s purported refutation:

1. The Herald report said nothing about a phone call with Chávez. Where did that come from? The wacky Zelaya quotes were represented as from an interview with the Herald. If they are invented or distorted, Zelaya or one of his representatives should demand the Herald run a retraction. Why is this being left to a freelancer like Madsen?

2. There are no sources here. How does Madsen claim to know this? Alarmingly, none of the various websites that have picked up Madsen’s piece (Infowars, Online Journal, Dominican Today) even bother to point this out!

3. Gratuitous name-calling hurts his credibility. The Associated Press is the “Zionist-controlled media”?

A Sept. 25 report by Al Giordano on Narco News actually provides photos and identification of several surveillance and jamming devices used by the Honduran security forces outside the Brazilian embassy. All are made in the US, not Israel—although the one apparently cited by Masden (recovered by Zelaya supporters from a property adjoining the embassy) is not identified. Writes Giordano: “It is not yet known what exactly it is, or why it was accompanied by a plastic bag, or whether some kind of substance or chemical agent or gas was inside the bag and aimed at the Brazilian embassy.”

A much larger device, shown being employed from the back of a truck by Honduran National Police, is identified by Narco News as a “LRAD-X Remote Long Range Acoustic Device, manufactured by the American Technologies Corporation.” A Sept. 24 report in the Honduran daily La Tribuna shows the same device, identifying it as a “cañón sĂłnico” dubbed the “Screamer”—and stating that it is being employed against “miembros de la ‘Resistencia.'” In other words, against Zelaya’s supporters who have been rallying at the Embassy—not at the Embassy itself. The report also calls the cannon “la Ăşltima arma secreta en dotaciĂłn desde hace tiempo por el ejĂ©rcito de Israel…” Now unless we are failing to pick up on a colloquialism, dotaciĂłn means “grant” or “endowment,” not “development.” So presumably this is US-developed technology supplied to Israel in the past and now at use in Honduras.

It would be helpful to get some clear and comprehensive information on what technology is actually being employed at the Embassy, and what Zelaya actually said about it. But all the usual suspects of the right and left alike seem more concerned with scoring points than getting at the truth. As usual.

See our last posts on Honduras and the politics of anti-Semitism.

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And could it really be true?

  1. Life’s little ironies
    ADL fails to note that coup-installed President Roberto Micheletti has reportedly appointed as “special advisor” one Billy Joya AmĂ©ndola—named as a principal leader of the blood-drenched 316 Battalion death squad in the 1980s. In addition to receiving requisite aid from the CIA, Joya and the 316 Battalion also apparently received training in Argentina from Gen. Guillermo Suárez Mason AKA “Pajarito”—who would later be convicted and imprisoned on charges related to 30 murders and 200 kidnappings. As a BBC News account of June 25, 2003 reveals, the charming Gen. Suárez was one of the most virulently anti-Semitic figures in the notoriously Judeophobic Argentine military dictatorship of the 1970s.

    This doesn’t let Zelaya or his supporters off the hook for any anti-Semitic wackiness, but it does point up the ADL’s double standards.

    It is also further illustration of an insidious cultural shift over the past generation. In the age of the Argentine dictators, anti-Semitism was seen as being predominantly a phenomenon of the right. Today, the right views it as almost exclusively a phenomenon of the left, while the left views it as non-existent, a mere propaganda ploy of Zionists and neocons.

    Can anyone explain to us—Why is that?

  2. “Turks out”?
    From AP, Sept. 26:

    TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Die-hard supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya are increasingly turning their anger toward the country’s wealthy business elite, a small but powerful cadre that largely backs the interim government officials who removed him at gunpoint three months ago.

    The capital is now covered with graffiti demanding “Turks out!” — a reference to the Central American country’s large number of business people of Middle Eastern descent — and on Saturday pro-Zelaya marchers lashed out at the elite’s dominance over wealth in a country where millions are poor.

    “They own almost the whole country,” pro-Zelaya protester Arnoldo Pagoaga, a medical doctor who marched in his white uniform, said Saturday. “They’re terrorists. … They own the army, and sic it on us.”

    Fellow demonstrator Rafael Alegria complained that Honduras “has a large immigrant community that owns everything: commerce and industry.”

    “We don’t really have our own economy,” Alegria said. “We have to set that right.”

    We’re a little suspicious of man-on-the-street quotes that cannot be corroborated and may not be representative. But the graffiti appears to be real. The above-cited ADL press release shows a wall in San Pedro Sula scrawled with the slogan “Jews and Arabs Out”—alongside a stenciled image of Che Guevara.

    Further evidence that classical anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism are genetically linked phenomena. But we do wish they would keep Che out of it.

  3. Romero’s unseemly outburst…
    …as well as his apology are further fleshed out in the New York Times account, Oct. 6:

    Mr. Romero, a host for Radio Globo, which supports the ousted President, Manuel Zelaya, said on Sept. 25: “There are times when I ask myself if Hitler was or was not correct in finishing with that race with the famous Holocaust. If there is a people that do damage in this country, they are Jewish, they are Israelis.”

    Mr. Zelaya has sought to distance himself from anti-Semitism, noting in an open letter last week that he had appointed four Jewish cabinet members.

    On Monday, the United States ambassador in Tegucigalpa joined the criticism, writing to the radio station’s owner, Alejandro Villatoro, to ask him to denounce what he called “this appalling act.”

    “Mr. Romero’s commentary makes a mockery of any pretense he may have of solidarity with people who struggle against injustice,” the ambassador, Hugo Llorens, wrote. He noted that Mr. Villatoro and Mr. Romero had sought his help last week after the police shut down the station under an emergency decree…

    In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Romero said that he had asked for forgiveness and would continue asking for forgiveness — in a synagogue if need be — for what he called a “stupidity.”

    “I was betrayed by my emotions in the moment,” he said. “I have to assume my responsibility.”

  4. JINSA supports Honduran coup
    Not exactly a surprise. These guys have weighed in on Latin America before. From The Forward, Sept. 23:

    On September 4…the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs called on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to reverse the administration’s position and support Zelaya’s overthrow. Zelaya was democratically elected in 2006. But the group, which is primarily devoted to promoting strong military ties between Israel and the United States, was concerned that Zelaya was leading the country away from democracy and into alliances with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the time of his overthrow.

    “Zelaya was a man who was moving towards Chavez,” said JINSA’s executive director, Tom Neumann. “He was going anti-American.”


    In an interview, Neumann said that Zelaya’s June 28 overthrow…was, in fact, lawful, having been ordered by the country’s Supreme Court and backed by its legislature after Zelaya sought to change the country’s constitution. Neumann questioned the State Department’s decision to back the former president, who met with Clinton in Washington on September 3.

    “For us to take a position that we are supporting a government that is anti-American and opposing one that is pro-American is absurd,” he said.