newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Is Israel overlooking the most important US minority group?

Having grown up as a Jewish Latina in Missouri, now Leah Soibel changes hearts and minds as CEO of a media organization for Spanish speakers about Israel.

Leah Soibel, founder of nonprofit media company Fuente Latina. Credit: Courtesy.
Leah Soibel, founder of nonprofit media company Fuente Latina. Credit: Courtesy.

One of the defining events of Leah Soibel’s professional life occurred at the American University in Cairo in 2001. She was a young student studying for a master’s degree in Arabic and participated in a seminar where students were chosen to voice the perspectives of nations in a debate on the political-security situation in the Middle East. Soibel represented her native United States, but found the academic exercise quickly turned into an ideological battleground, where she was almost powerless against the Arab students who projected their home countries’ positions.

“It happened during the days of the second intifada. The hatred for the Jews could be felt tangibly in the air. It was the first time I saw with my own eyes how the American and Israeli flags were burned on campus,” said Soibel.

“When I was preparing for the debate, I did not want to mention I am Jewish so as not to put a target on my back. But the Arab students aggressively attacked the ‘Zionists,’ the ‘Jews,’ the ‘Israelis,’ and held me responsible for the ‘occupation of Al-Aqsa’ and the ‘murder of Palestinians’. Then it was my turn to speak. I simply could not resist, and I spoke about my identity. About the fact that I am Jewish, that I am American, and that I am also Latina, and that even though I wasn’t yet an Israeli, I have a deep connection to Israel.

“I saw they were getting confused, but I made them listen to what I had to say and created a dialogue. Then I also realized that beyond any political or religious issue, we, the supporters of Israel, have a fundamental problem of communication. This realization made me want to present the story of Israel in a better way.”

‘An audience of half a billion people.

She spent a few more years in academia, including Ph.D. studies in political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, before leading a communications department at The Israel Project, an iconic media advocacy group of its time. In 2012, Soibel founded Fuente Latina, the only nonprofit media organization that engages Hispanic news outlets and influencers about Israel across the Spanish-speaking world.

“I realized that insufficient thought and resources were dedicated to communicating with Latinos in the world, even though it is an audience of about half a billion people. They are generally regarded, unjustly, as one homogeneous group, defined only by language. But in reality, Latinos are multicultural, with rich traditions rooted in unique and varied societies, cultures, politics, geography, history, economics and more.”

Soibel established Fuente Latina [Latino Source] from the kitchen table of her apartment in Jerusalem’s Nayot neighborhood. Today, her organization includes 40 employees operating on three continents, with an annual budget of $3.8 million. Soibel now lives in Miami (the unofficial capital of the Latino community in the United States) and spends a lot of time traveling between South America, Spain, and Israel.

To date, Fuente Latina has facilitated more than 35,000 articles and thousands of TV and radio stories about Israel. The organization has brought over a hundred groups of Latino journalists and influencers here to convey their experiences to millions of readers, viewers and followers.

“Fuente Latina changed the rules of the game for Hispanic journalists. This organization brought the reality of Israel closer to us, which until recently was very far from us,” explains journalist Adriana Navarro from the America Teve television channel in Miami. Navarro participated in a media tour organized by Soibel in Israel and won an Emmy Award for a series called “Israel—A Thousand Faces and One Dream,” which she produced during her visit.

“Due to historical and economic reasons, the media in Latin America usually did not send journalists to Israel and mainly relied on the media in Spain, a country that always stars in the global antisemitism index, and therefore its journalists mainly deal with the Palestinian narrative,” Soibel explained. 

“To succeed, you must establish personal relationships, establish a reputation and credibility—and above all, get to know the desired audience, their media consumption habits, their interests and the world they live in.”

 ‘Two communities living separately.

Soibel identified two key indicators on the route to this goal: the Latino community in the United States and the influencers who appeal to the young people of the community and the Hispanic world. “The Latino community in the United States presents about 20% of the general population and by 2050 will comprise about 30%,” she said. 

“Of course, they have a serious impact on the American political map. In the 2024 election, for example, 15% of the voters will be Latinos. They live mainly in key election states and greatly influence the outcome, so their voice is very important,” she explained.

“What is strange is that in those states there are also significant Jewish populations, but the two communities live separately from each other, although there are many things that can connect them. The problem is that in the current warped discourse of identity politics in the United States, the Jews are seen as ‘white’ and the Palestinians as ‘brown’—and in the current climate for many Americans, especially for the so-called ‘woke,’ that’s the only thing that matters,” she said.

‘Natives’ versus ‘colonists.’

Soibel aims to engage young Latinos in the community. “This is the future of the United States and of the relationship between Israel and America,” she said. “Young people consume information and form opinions almost exclusively through social media, mainly content in Spanish but also content in English, presented from a cultural perspective.”

Pro-Palestinian actors are very active in this arena, she said. “Qatari and Iranian media outlets invest a lot of effort and resources and distribute a great deal of content dealing with ‘natives’ versus ‘colonialists.’ This immediately connects to the negative feelings of Latinos in the United States, especially Mexicans, who make up about 70% of the Latino community. That’s why attitudes of young Latinos in the United States, under 35, are more anti-Israel than those of the general population. It’s a battle we’re losing. For now.”

Carla Angola, an influencer from Venezuela who visited Israel with Fuente Latina, said, “Leah is a source of inspiration for me. She is a determined and admirable leader, who works successfully in the complicated arena of Israel advocacy among Hispanics.” Angola is well known both in her homeland and in the United States, with over six million followers on social media.

The real test for Israeli advocacy, and Fuente Latina’s strategy, came after Oct. 7. “While Hamas was slaughtering Israelis, I flew to Israel to manage operations and accompany the first delegation of Latino war journalists brought here,” said Soibel.

“This is exactly why I founded this organization,” she said. “We didn’t have to start looking for someone to talk to from scratch, because we already know everyone, and everyone knows us. Since Oct. 7, we brought 180 journalists to Israel continuously, even after the first wave of interest and shock already faded. We created more than 500 video clips that explain the reality on the ground here and refute the rampant lies and fake news in ways that resonate with Hispanics. 

“We knew what content would be of interest to the various journalists and influencers and we responded quickly. We were put under a lot of pressure, and our content team, who are almost all non-Jews, received threats to their lives and lost friends, but we did it because we know our enemies are working just as hard as we are. We are one organization, but the Palestinians have many Fuente Latinas,” she concluded.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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