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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 23-11-2023 17:29

Argentina chooses a pro-Israel president who has a rabbi as spiritual advisor

Right-wing populist Javier Milei scored a clear win over ruling coalition candidate Sergio Massa in last week's presidential election. Argentina's foreign policy will now shift substantially, moving closer to Israel and the United States.

Voters chose controversial libertarian politician Javier Milei as their next president in last weekend's run-off, and he will rule the country for the next four years. He will be perhaps become Argentina's most pro-Israel president – he even has a rabbi as his spiritual advisor.

Thus, the southernmost country in Latin America is going in the opposite direction to many countries in the region, such as Bolivia, which broke relations with Israel due to the war in Gaza, and Colombia and Chile, which recalled their ambassadors in Tel Aviv for the same reason.

Even regional heavyweight Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has an ambiguous, albeit in general harsh, relationship with Israel, which he criticised severely for the attack on Gaza, but with whom he also claimed he is collaborating with to achieve the release of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas in the terrorist attack on October 7.

In addition to his calls to eliminate the Central Bank, dollarise the Argentine economy and trim half the ministries of the State, Milei attracted attention for his relationship with Israel and Judaism in general.

Early this year, when his candidacy started to be taken seriously by the political establishment and the media, the economist said one of his greatest idols is Moses.

Not only does he admire the Israeli prophet, he revealed, he has even considered converting to Judaism. In another interview, he nuanced that impulse: it would be a problem for a president in office to be Jewish and having to stop working in the Sabbath.

On other occasions, he asserted that his government’s foreign policy will have two main allies: United States and Israel. “Israel I consider such an ally that I’ve said I'd move the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he stated during a television interview in August this year.

Milei's Paraguayan counterpart as from December, Santiago Peña, made a similar announcement and he is expected to move his Embassy once again from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital.

During another television interview in the middle of the campaign, back in September, Milei said he had spent a special weekend in the United States: sharing Sabbath with friends in Miami and attending meeting with representatives from the famed Lubavitch Hasidic movement in New York.

In Buenos Aires, the economist also has important Jewish ties. Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish is his spiritual advisor and another rabbi, Tzvi Grunblatt, from Jabad Lubavitch Argentina, “connected him with some big businessmen,” among them the controversial figure of Eduardo Elsztain, according to local media reports.

The president-elect Milei based his campaign on two main themes: economic recovery and the fighting of corruption, narco-trafficking and “insecurity” – contact with Israel is expected in those fields. For example, the Middle Eastern country is often cited as an example to follow in the battle to over inflation, while it is also one of the world's main exporters of weapons and military technology,.

With his triumph, Milei has placed a big question mark over the future of Massa in particular, and Peronism in general. Although starting in the 1970s it joined the side of non-aligned countries which were critical of Jerusalem, the political movement created by president Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955) had very cordial relations with Israel in its early stage.

Both countries remember that, in 1951, the legendary wife of General Perón, Eva Perón, sent huge shipments of badly needed humanitarian aid by sea for the recently created State of Israel. During his terms in office, Perón held good relations with Argentine Jews, especially if they supported his regime, or at least, did not publicly criticise him.

Local press expects Milei’s foreign minister to be economist Diana Mondino. Aged 65, surely the businesswoman will follow her boss’s line regarding the United States and Israel.

To begin with, Mondino and Milei are very critical of the commercial bloc Mercosur comprised by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (“it’s old hat,” she said in a television interview), and it is also possible that the libertarian government will clash with two ideological “enemies” of the future president, China  – with many investments in the country – and Russia.

Showing some signs of moderation, in tune with Milei, Mondino assured that, at any rate, she would have no problem meeting representatives from Beijing and Moscow. “Everyone had relations with Attila [the Hun] to keep him from invading them, the business veteran pointed out.

In his first message as president-elect, Milei assured that on Sunday “the reconstruction of Argentina” had begun. Will Israel have a special place in that reconstruction? It seems so.

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Marcelo Raimon

Marcelo Raimon

Periodista. Trabajó como corresponsal de la agencia ANSA en Buenos Aires y Washington. Se especializa en temas de la realidad israelí.


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