Warm Embrace

Latino community drawing closer to Israel

By Jonathan Feldstein

I was driving in Jerusalem last month and saw a colourful flag flying. The horizontal bars of yellow, blue, and red had a coat of arms in the middle, but I was not familiar with which country it represented.  What I did know is that there was a visiting head of state in town, and flying that country’s flag was a way to show honour and respect.

A few days later, I read that Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso was visiting, and had announced the opening of an official innovation office in Jerusalem, and he undertook to maintain a more balanced approach toward Israel at the United Nations.  Both are welcome announcements, particularly given that in the past, Ecuador had been part of a group of countries that frequently voted against Israel at the UN.  President Lasso’s visit marked the first time an Ecuadorian President came to Israel since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1949.

Sister States. Hailing new era in Israel-Ecuador ties, Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog hosts dinner for Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso who says countries are “sister state”. (photo Twitter/ Isaac Herzog May 2022)

Celebratory statements and tweets came from both Israeli and Ecuadorian leaders. When I read that the new office will be located in the trade office Colombia that opened in Jerusalem last year, I realized that something big and good was afoot between Israel and Latin America, and the Hispanic community in general.

A week later I read about Israel’s embassy in Mexico opening the Israel-Mexico tech acceleration program, designed to connect innovative enterprises in Israel and Mexico for high-level high-tech collaboration.  The Israeli and Mexican announcement is part of the countries celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations in July.

High Gear. Amid the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Mexico, the Israeli Embassy of Mexico inaugurates Israel-Mexico tech acceleration program. (photo credit: EMBASSY OF ISRAEL IN MEXICO)

As the 15th-largest economy in the world, this program will connect Mexican and Israeli entrepreneurs working on solutions to respective local challenges and needs including health, communication, and the very important issue of water management.

This comes in the wake of two other central American countries, Guatemala and Honduras, being among those to move their embassies to Jerusalem, and is an important way to increase cooperation and build regional ties.

Given these news items and my growing relationships among the latin community, it’s clear I made a mistake studying French in high school. In these cases however, entrepreneurship is a common language, which will overcome linguistic barriers and build warm, ongoing, and mutually beneficial relationships.

When I think about recent developments, I am pleased but not surprised. The truth is that they all are part of a trend in Many countries understand that close relations with Israel bring many benefits and blessings to the table.  Individually, with strong roots in Christianity, latin communities all over the world look at Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Biblical principles such as blessing Israel, praying for the peace of Jerusalem, being watchmen on the wall, and more are not mere words but God’s playbook.

On High Ground. A woman enters the new Honduran Embassy in Jerusalem, June 23,2021, the fourth country to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital following the US, Kosovo and Guatemala.
| Photo: EPA / Atef Safadi

This was why Guatemala and Honduras quickly followed the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move their embassies there.  As these diplomatic pillars strengthen, it’s no surprise that last year six Central American countries took part in establishing the Central American Forum for Israel.  Doing so, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua signed a declaration of support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Close Ties. Guatemalan activists wave Israeli flags near the “Plaza of Israel” in the country’s capital, 2015 reflecting the friendship ties between Israel and Guatemala that go back to 1947 when the UN voted for the resolution that led to the establishment of the modern State of Israel.(photo credit: REUTERS)

Part of this initiative highlighted their commitment to educate future generations about the Holocaust and fight antisemitism. Together, they adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, declaring:

 “We stand against antisemitism and hatred of all kinds. We support the IHRA as countries and institutions around the world do to simplify law enforcement and deal with the consequences of antisemitism in a correct and just way.”

All this activity is especially noteworthy not just in the strengthening of diplomatic and trade relations with Israel, but as a way to take the war on terror to another front.  Iran has long sought to increase its reach to and presence in Latin America, and indeed has established itself in places like Cuba, Venezuela, and others.  These are not as threatening as Iran’s presence in Argentina where it was responsible for two major terror attacks on the Israeli embassy (March 17, 1992, killing 29 and injuring more than 250) and on the Jewish community center (July 18, 1994, killing 85 and injuring more than 300).

Iran’s terrorist reach is not limited to major bombings. On January 18, 2015, Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment. “Coincidentally”, days earlier, he had filed a report implicating former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other officials of covering up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 Jewish community center bombing. More recently, a Venezuelan cargo plane with “car parts” and previously owned by Iran, arrived in Argentina, rousing suspicion. It had had a far larger than necessary crew, including several Iranians!

The growing relations between Israel and a number of Latin American countries is important and embodies the Biblical model of Israel being a blessing to the families of the world.  But more than on a national basis, religious support for Israel among latinos worldwide is a cornerstone of support within their nations. This of course includes Latin America, but also throughout the US.  While Christian support for Israel is wide and growing in general, it feels much wider on a per capita basis among Hispanics.

New Directions. ‘Thirsty’ for Israeli innovation,  Colombia in 2015 signed with Israel an agreement on cooperation in industrial R&D. The agreement enabled companies from both countries to receive government funding for joint projects in industrial projects focused on adapting products to the Colombian market. (Photo by Shutterstock.com)

There are many ways in which this is expressed, but one of the most unique, dynamic, and impressive was when I visited Nashville this year and had the privilege of attending services and speaking at Casa de Dios. I am accustomed to an Israeli flag flying in a church parking lot of a number of ministries.  However, Casa de Dios raises the bar: before each of their services every Sunday, they sing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah. I was moved beyond words.

The Spanish Connection. The Ralli Museums located in a 40,000 square meter park in Caesarea, Israel exhibiting mainly Latin American and Spanish paintings and sculptures reflects strong historic bonds with the eye to the future.

Something big is happening among latinos relating to Israel.  Exploring this, I hosted two back-to-back conversations discussing a range of reasons why that’s happening and the significance of how Hispanics are awakening to their deep Jewish roots as well. I pray it will continue and be a mutual blessing to us all. If nothing else, I am hoping that Central American pineapples will begin to flood the Israeli market, bringing down the price and bringing up the quality.

As we are seeing, this is a relationship that bears fruit!

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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