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Argentina’s president in Israel on wartime solidarity visit

Javier Milei has appointed his rabbi, Axel Wahnish, who is accompanying him on the visit, as Argentina’s next ambassador to Israel.

Argentinian President Javier Milei visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Argentinian President Javier Milei visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Argentine President Javier Milei arrived in Israel on Tuesday, reiterating his pledge to move his nation’s embassy to Jerusalem and opening a new chapter in bilateral relations.

The three-day solidarity trip, which is one of his first tours abroad since taking office two months ago, signals a major shift in Argentina’s foreign policy towards the United States and Israel after decades of backing Arab countries.

The presidential trip will include a visit to a kibbutz on the border with Gaza which was hard-hit by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 massacre, meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, who will accompany him on the tour of Kibbutz Nir Oz, along with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and a stop for prayer at the Western Wall.

Netanyahu issued a statement on Tuesday warmly welcoming Milei to Israel in what is the first such visit by a Latin American leader since the war broke out and congratulated him on his commitment to relocating the embassy to Jerusalem. The two leaders will meet in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

An unabashedly public philo-semite who studies with a rabbi, Milei has repeatedly pledged to move the Argentine embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although economic woes at home—where inflation topped 140% last year—are clearly front and center on his government’s to-do list.

In a further sign of friendship, Milei has appointed his rabbi, Axel Wahnish, who is accompanying him on the visit, as Argentina’s next ambassador to Israel. The small delegation will also include Argentina’s foreign minister, Diana Mondino.

Netanyahu invited Milei to Jerusalem in a congratulatory phone call in December, calling him a “true friend” of Israel.

An iconoclast and political outsider, Milei was elected in November amid a burgeoning economic crisis and skyrocketing inflation that has long beleaguered the large South American country. A week after his election victory, he visited the United States for government meetings, stopping at the grave in New York of the late Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in his third such visit last year.

Milei has said that he would work to have Argentina designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, noting that Argentines were among the hundreds of people from scores of nations taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7. During his tour of southern Israel, he will meet with Argentina-born farmers who were held by Hamas in Gaza.

Argentine President Javier Milei
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz (right) welcomes Argentine President Javier Milei at Ben-Gurion Airport, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by Shlomi Amsalem/MFA.

“I want to emphasize our complete solidarity with the people of Israel following the terrorist acts committed by the terrorist organization Hamas,” Milei told then-Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in a meeting in Buenos Aires along with relatives of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. “I support Israel’s full right to defend itself against those terrorist attacks.”

His staunch support for Israel both ditches decades of unequivocal backing for Arab countries in the predominantly Catholic Latin American nation under both left- and right-wing governments and contrasts with neighboring Brazil, whose leftist leader, President Lula da Silva, has been highly critical of Israel’s war in Gaza.

After he visits Israel, Milei, who is taking a commercial flight to the country, will travel to the Vatican for meetings with the pope as well as with the Italian premier and to attend the beatification ceremony for a nun.

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