In 2010, the late Cuban dictator told an American Jewish journalist that he believed Israel has a right to exist, earning him praise from Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres. Citing the same interview, the American Jewish Committee stated more recently that, despite the Cuban regime’s firm commitment to anti-Zionism and refusal to recognize the Jewish state, “the Castro brothers have not engaged in anti-Semitism.” Seth Frantzman takes a hard look at these claims, which have typified conventional wisdom about Cuba and the Jews:
In 1994, . . . [Israel’s chief rabbi] Israel Meir Lau attempted to get Castro to allow kosher meat into Cuba. . . . The Cuban leader had initially rejected Lau’s request. “I told you that I am fighting against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in my country. . . . Do you want to make my people anti-Semitic?” Castro asked. “We have the practice of allocating 150 grams of bread a day, but the Jews in Cuba would have meat? [The people] will have a horrible hatred for them, envy them tremendously, and loot their homes if under such conditions you seek to import kosher meat for the Jews. You yourself create the anti-Semitism that I have been stopping.”
This is an example of supposedly stopping anti-Semitism: Castro threatened Jews that if they wanted to eat kosher meat they would “create” anti-Semitism. Castro was admitting that he had starved his country by putting it on bread rations, but surely Cubans eat some meat. So why would kosher meat “make” others anti-Semitic? One wonders whether “envy” for Muslims eating halal meat [which is in fact allowed into Cuba] would create the same excuse for Islamophobia. . . .
The real truth was that Castro wanted to sell himself as being the lone figure who could prevent anti-Semitism, much like many other leaders who claim they are “friends” of the Jewish minority by “preventing” anti-Semitism. But, [in a country where] there are only 1,500 Jews among 11 million people, why would there be any anti-Semitism? Can anyone imagine a leader claiming that if people of color ate meat, racism would therefore be acceptable? . . .
The reality in Cuba was that Jews were deeply suppressed, unable to practice their religion for decades, denied kosher meat, kept from emigrating, and impoverished.