Chile forest fire arrest revives old anti-Jewish theories

Firefighters at the Torres del Paine national park

Firefighters at the Torres del Paine national park

Antisemitic conspiracy theories have appeared on Chilean websites following the arrest of an Israeli tourist in connection with a devastating forest fire.

Rotem Singer, 23, has been questioned by police for allegedly starting the blaze at the Torres del Paine national park by failing to extinguish burning toilet paper.

He has denied any involvement but has been ordered to remain in Chile while the investigation is carried out. If convicted, he could face a fine and up to 60 days in jail.

His arrest has been fruit for conspiracy theorists, who are blaming Israel for this fire and a wave of similar ones that swept Chile over the last week.

According to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, Chilean websites have suggested that Israel and the Jews deliberately started the fire. The hate monitor said that users had posted "hate-filled comments," linking the fires to an old antisemitic trope known as the "Andinia Plan". The "plan" is based on the idea that Jews want to create a state in Patagonia by any means possible.

A Chilean congressman, Fuad Chahin, asked his Twitter followers to consider the possibility that Mr Singer had been sent to Argentina by Israel after "killing Palestinian children."

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the ADL, called for the immediate end to the "outrageous and bigoted scapegoating of Jews and Israel".

He added: "Irrespective of whether or not the Israeli individual was responsible for the fire, there is absolutely no justification for these kinds of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

"Once again, at a time of tragedy, we see that antisemitism is being brought to the surface in Chilean society. It is the responsibility of Chile's leadership to speak out and to condemn it forthrightly."

Israel has offered to send aid to help Chile recover after the fires.

Last updated: 2:50pm, January 6 2012