Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called Argentinian President-elect Javier Milei “a true friend of Israel” and invited him to visit Jerusalem.
The Israeli leader congratulated Milei on his election victory in a “friendly” telephone call, and thanked him for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas as well as for his pledge to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
In a major foreign policy shift, Milei has said his main two foreign allies will be the United States and Israel, ditching decades of pro-Arab support in Latin America.
According to Argentina’s Radio Perfil, Milei has also previously expressed interest in converting to Judaism, saying, “I aspire to become the first Jewish president in Argentine history.”
Milei, an iconoclastic outsider who entered politics in 2020 vowing to “blow up” the system, won by 56% to 44% against his rival, Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
Milei makes no secret of his philo-semitism, which appears to have made little difference with the Argentinian electorate, despite its being 92% Catholic. (Jews make up less than 1% of the population, though at 200,000 it is the largest Jewish population in Latin America.)
He told La Nacion, “I don’t go to church. I go to synagogue. I don’t follow a priest. I follow my rabbi. I learn Torah. I’m known internationally as a friend of Israel. And as someone who learns Torah, I’m almost Jewish. I’m just missing the ‘blood covenant.’”
Milei will be sworn in on Dec. 10.
Some Jewish organizations have expressed concerns after Milei nominated former justice minister Rodolfo Barra, who was forced to resign in the 1990s over antisemitism allegations, as the attorney general of the treasury, responsible for representing the state in legal matters.
Barra, a 76-year-old lawyer, was forced to resign from government over the public outcry that ensued after a photo of him as a teenager, with his arm outstretched in a Nazi-style salute, was made public.
“If as a youth I was a Nazi, I am sorry,” Barra said in 1996. Over the weekend, he told news channel LN+: “I was a teenager, a teenager lacking maturity, knowledge. Many at this teenage age do crazy things, and I did this madness.”
The Memoria Activa group, which represents the families who lost loved ones in the AMIA and Israeli embassy bombings in the 1990s, has expressed its “absolute rejection of the appointment of Rodolfo Barra as Treasury Attorney,” adding that “impunity is repeated.”
However, the Delegation of Israeli-Argentine Associations has stressed that Barra already apologized for his “horrific behavior and expressions from his youth.” The association emphasized that fighting antisemitism and racism will be “core” to the organization Barra will lead.