Argentine union leader calls government minister ‘little Jew boy’

Marcy Oster

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — An Argentinian union leader criticized the country’s Minister of the Economy, Axel Kicillof, during a radio interview saying that “the little Jew boy does gives no answer” to workers’ demands.

Luis Barrionuevo on Wednesday discussed a national general strike initiated the previous day by the union, referring to the minister as “el Rusito,” the Little Russian.  “Russian” is a popular slang term used to refer to Jews in Argentina.

The president of the national Jewish political umbrella DAIA, Julio Schlosser, told JTA that these “discriminatory expressions are very upsetting. We regret these statements by Luis Barrionuevo and condemn them.”

Alerted by the show host, Ernesto Tenembaum, that the slur was offensive, Barrionuevo, the leader of the CGT Azul y Blanca, or Blue and white CGT union, justified it by saying: “that’s how his Cabinet colleagues refer to him.”  Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez responded by saying in his daily meeting with journalists that “the little Russian is a brilliant Minister.”

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“Everybody calls him this. When I talk with members of the government they refer to the minister as El Rusito. I didn’t discriminate against him,” Barrionuevo said in another radio interview with Jewish journalist Martin Liberman, who asked Barrionuevo if he has problems with Jews. “I have Jewish friends,” Barrionuevo said.

“The use of such language referring to the fact that Kicillof is Jewish, particularly in the framework of a union protest, constitutes incitement and puts the Jewish community at risk,” Sergio Widder, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director for Latin America told JTA.

“Even if his colleagues call him that, and even if Kicillof has no objections to that, such use in current circumstances is totally inappropriate. It is important that the workers who were protesting yesterday against the government make sure that their claims are not be tainted by racist language. We urge Barrionuevo to publically and immediately apologize. Failure to do so can be interpreted as an endorsement of hatred against the Jewish community,” Widder said.

Three weeks ago, the man who popularized in a comedic way calling Jews in Argentina Russians, television host and producer Gerardo Sofovich, died at the age of 77.