(February 10, 2021 / JNS) The Jewish Diaspora in Latin America began with Spanish and Portuguese expeditions in the 15th century, and to date the Jewish population in Latin America remains strong, concentrated largely in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Since the U.N. General Assembly vote on Nov. 29, 1947, in which 13 of the 20 Latin American member nations voted in favor of the establishment of two states—one Jewish and one Arab—in British Mandate Palestine, the relationship between Latin America and Israel has expanded, especially through cooperation in the fields of agriculture, medicine, science and technology.
Israel maintains full diplomatic relations with all the countries of Central and South America, and the Caribbean region (with the exception of Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela). In recent years, pro-Israel Latin American influencers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have further transformed the relationship.
According to surveys, nearly 20 percent of Latin Americans are evangelical Christians, as well as nearly 30 percent in Brazil and more than 40 percent in much of Central America. Evangelical support has been attributed to the election of pro-Israel Latin American governments and pro-Israel political decisions such as Guatemala’s moving of the country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As pro-Israel Christians and Jews in Latin America have made a large political and societal impact, JNS has compiled a list of such influencers, which is by no means exhaustive (or ranked), including seasoned and up-and-coming activists and leaders from all walks of life.
May Samra (Mexico) @enlacejudio
May Samra is the director and editor in chief of Mexican Jewish news site, Enlace Judio, which represents the most widely read Jewish media in the Spanish world, reaching millions of people every month. The platform contains local and international news about Israel, Jewish traditions and customs, and more. Samra was born in Lebanon and lives in Mexico City.
Leopoldo Martínez (Venezuela) @IAF_ES
Leopoldo Martínez currently serves as the Israel Allies Foundation’s Latin America director, working with pro-Israel parliamentarians and political leaders in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Prior to joining IAF, Martínez, a Venezuelan-American, worked as a researcher, writer and editor for political and economic Latin American issues in various organizations in Washington, D.C.
Jimmy Morales (Guatemala) @jimmymoralesgt
Jimmy Morales served as the 50th president of Guatemala from 2016 to 2020. On Dec. 24, 2017, he announced that the Guatemalan embassy in Israel would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, becoming the second national leader to decide to make such a move.
Lucy Cosme Thormann (Dominican Republic) @LucyCosme
Lucy Cosme Thormann is a Christian pastor, philanthropist and author from the Dominican Republic who now lives in Miami. She is an outspoken friend of Israel and has opened several pro-Israel ministries in the Dominican Republic, United States, and soon, Europe.
Maida Paz Callau (Bolivia)
Maida Paz Callau is a Bolivian diplomat who requested as one of her first matters of business to re-establish relations with Israel. Following the ousting of Evo Morales, she sent an official letter to the Bolivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, saying “as a Christian deputy, I want this to be restored.”
Isaac de Castro (Panama) @isaacdecastrog
Isaac de Castro, originally from Panama and who attends Cornell University in New York, is the founder of Jewish on Campus, an Instagram account that records the stories of Jewish students from around the United States who have experienced anti-Semitism on campus. He is a co-host of the podcast “Jewish Identity Crisis,” which explores the lives and experiences of multi-cultural, diaspora Judaism. He advocates for Jews and Israel on social media with the stated goal of “amplifying Jewish voices” and striving for university action to fight anti-Semitism.
Juan Orlando Hernández (Honduras) @JuanOrlandoH
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández assumed office in 2014 and began his second term in 2018. In 2020, he officially declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization and announced his plans to move the Honduran embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—announcements that proved controversial due to the high population of Palestinians in Honduras.
Leah Soibel (Argentina) @FuenteLatina
Leah Soibel is a Latin media expert and founder of the U.S.-based, pro-Israel NGO Fuente Latina, which works to connect Israel to the Spanish-speaking world. Soibel founded Fuente Latina in 2012, the same year that Iran launched its anti-Israel Spanish language channel HispanTV. Soibel’s organization ensures that global Spanish-language media have the facts, interviews and access to decision makers they need to accurately cover Israel.
Andrés Isaac Roemer (Mexico) @RoemerAndres
Andrés Isaac Roemer is the former Mexican Ambassador to UNESCO, who knowingly risked his position by leaving the UNESCO voting hall rather than follow the instructions he had received from his government to vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution 2335 whose language stripped the Temple Mount and Western Wall of their Jewish names, thereby denying Jewish roots to Jerusalem. While the resolution passed, and Roemer was recalled and removed from his post, his moral courage convinced several countries, including his own, to reverse the resolution’s position.
José Achar (Mexico)
José Achar is president of Yajad Leeman Jayal, an organization established by founding father and the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, in 1942, which supports the well-being of soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.
Andre Lajst (Brazil) @AndreLajst
Andre Lajst is StandWithUs Brazil’s executive director, working to challenge misinformation about Israel and fight anti-Semitism as part of events for students, teachers, journalists and members of the community. Andre is originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Andre made aliyah in 2006 and served in the Israeli Air Force as a researcher for two years.
Viviane Aleyda Morales Hoyos (Colombia) @MoralesViviane
Viviane Aleyda Morales Hoyos was the seventh Attorney General of Colombia and is the UNESCO Ambassador to France, where she presented a resolution to dismantle the anti-Semitic Aalst Carnival, an annual three-day festival in the Belgian city of Aalst, formerly recognized by UNESCO, in which people dress up as anti-Semitic figures.
Gloria Garcés (Guatemala) @GloriaMGarces
Gloria Garcés is an evangelical community leader, marketer, activist and TV host whose work on behalf of Israel gained recognition as participating in influencing the president of Guatemala to move the country’s embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. Garcés’s family in Guatemala, including her brother, had been working to this end for years and helped arrange the VIP meetings, inviting other Christian activists to join. She has worked with Fuente Latina, opening their U.S. office, and is currently advising The Philos Project, leading the #WeResolve movement to educate and mobilize thousands of Christians to stand against anti-Semitism
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Cuba) @RosLehtinenCamp
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a Cuban-born American politician and lobbyist who served for nearly three decades as a member of Congress representing diverse areas in South Florida, including many Latin American expats. By the end of her tenure in 2019, she was the most senior U.S. representative from Florida and was considered one of the Jewish state’s best friends in Congress, leading bills against the Palestinian Authority’s terrorist activity, as well as Syria and the Iranian nuclear program. Though raised Roman Catholic, Ros-Lehtinen is the granddaughter of Turkish Jews who immigrated to Cuba, later fleeing to the United States in the 1960s.
Pastor Mario Bramnick (Cuba) @bramnick_mario
Pastor Mario Bramnick, born in Cuba and now living in Florida, is the head of the Latino Coalition for Israel who meets regularly with presidents and high-level officials in Latin America to advocate for Israel. As the senior pastor of New Wine Ministries Church in Cooper, Fla., he established a Latino-Jewish roundtable with key Hispanic and Jewish leaders to discuss strengthening Latino-Jewish relations and pro-Israel activism. Pastor Bramnick has also hosted several summits in South Florida to combat the Israel delegitimization campaign.
Adela Cojab Moadeb (Mexico)
Adela Cojab Moadeb is a Mexican-born former law student at New York University, where she has worked to fight anti-Semitism on campus. At the 2019 IAC National Summit, U.S. President Donald Trump called Adela to join him at the podium, inviting her to share her story of taking legal action against NYU just two weeks before her graduation. NYU, she said, failed to protect its Jewish community from ongoing harassment, including attacks on social media, anti-Israel resolutions on student government, boycotts against Israel, flag-burning and physical assaults. Her case was accepted by the U.S. Department of Education with an investigation launched against the university for its failure to adequately protect the Jewish community.
Renê Terra Nova (Brazil) @ReneTerraNova
Renê Terra Nova is the Brazil and South American Ambassador for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), an organization established to recognize the biblical significance of Jerusalem and stand with Israel. As the founder and senior apostle of Ministerio Internacional da Restaurción (MIR) in Manaus, Brazil, Terra Nova’s church grew from 100 people to more than 70,000 with his worldwide network representing 7 million members—the fourth-largest Pentecostal-Charismatic network in the world. His efforts have brought tens of thousands of Christian visitors to the Jewish state over the past decade, awakening a love for Israel and its people.
Marcos Peckel (Colombia) @marcospeckel
Marcos Peckel is executive director of the Jewish Community of Colombia, member of the executive committee of the World Jewish Congress and commissioner to combat anti-Semitism in the Latin American Jewish Congress. He works as an international affairs columnist at two of the main daily newspapers in Colombia, El Espectador and El País, where he often writes about Israel. He is a professor of international relations at Universidad Externado de Colombia, Universidad del Rosario and the Diplomatic Academy of the ministry of foreign affairs. His pro-Israel activism reaches academia, radio and television, and society in general, as well as newspapers and social networks, where he publicly denounces BDS and anti-Semitic activity.
Alma Hernandez (Mexico) @almaforarizona
Alma Hernandez is a Mexican American politician serving as a Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives. She was the first Mexican American Jew to win an elected position in American history. Hernandez serves on the democratic majority for Israel’s board of directors as an outspoken advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship and Holocaust education in schools.
Edgar Palacio Mizrahi (Colombia) @epalaciosenado
Edgar Palacio Mizrachi is a member of the Senate of Colombia and part of the IAF Israel Allies Caucus there. He has advocated for Israel’s legal right to the land, based on international law, and is an outspoken supporter of Israel and its guaranteeing of access to important biblical sites in Judea and Samaria for people of all faiths.
Fidel Reyes Lee (Guatemala) @freyeslee_fidel
Fidel Reyes Lee is a Guatemalan congressman who has vocalized his unconditional support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. In 2017, he formed the Guatemala-Israel inter-parliamentary friendship group with Israeli Knesset member Hila Shay Vazan, garnering friendship and cooperation between the two countries. The friendship group is one of the largest in the Guatemalan Congress with 79 members.
Daniela Roitstein (Argentina and Chile) @droitstein
Daniela Roitstein is the co-founder and director of Editorial Furtiva. Fluent in Spanish, Hebrew and English, she shares pro-Israel content in each language on her Twitter account. Roitstein is a writer, editor and professor of Hebrew and Jewish studies, specializing in written communication and social media. She is the author of the novel Escote masulino and was awarded literary prizes in Argentina, where she was born, and in Australia.
Paloma Valencia (Colombia) @PalomaValenciaL
Paloma Valencia is a member of the Senate of Colombia, as well as a lawyer, professor and co-chair of the Colombian Senate Friends of Israel Allies Caucus, which aims to highlight the multi-partisan support for Israel in Colombia.
Janet Rudman (Uruguay) @janetrudman
Janet Rudman is a journalist who has worked with several Uruguayan publishing projects that build Jewish identity, including Kesher and TuMeser. She is a staff member of Semanario Hebrew Jai, a Jewish-Uruguayan news site that publishes articles about Israel, technology and health, culture and the Jewish world.
Ramy Attie (Panama)
Ramy Attie was born in Aleppo, Syria, and arrived in Panama in 1963, becoming the executive of a clothing and textile manufacturing company. Attie served as a captain in the Israeli army and was the president of the Association of Friends of Tel Aviv University, as well as the B’nai Brith Caribbean region. He is a member of the Hebrew Community Central Council and is a prominent member of the Jewish community in Panama.
Fernando Lottenberg (Brazil) @fernandolotten
Fernando Lottenberg is a business lawyer and president of the Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB), the umbrella organization of Brazilian Jewry, as well as vice president of the World Jewish Congress. He often acts as the unofficial spokesperson for Brazilian Jewry for various news outlets.
Rav Yosef Garmon (Guatemala) @YosefGarmon
Yosef Garmon, born in Jerusalem, was the former chief rabbi of Guatemala, who formed a Guatemalan branch of the Israeli search-and-rescue and victim identification unit of ZAKA, responding to the volcanic eruption in June 2018. He and his teams raised the funds to build 100 homes for the displaced evacuees in an area called “new Jerusalem.” Rabbi Garmon has expressed that while Latinos have a strong “spiritual love” for Israel, there must be a physical manifestation for the love to last, fed by humanitarian tasks.
Dany Saadia (Mexico) @dany
Dany Saadia is a Mexican filmmaker, screenwriter, podcaster and entrepreneur. He is CEO and founder of Dixo, the first podcasting production company in Mexico. His outspoken support for Israel reaches hundreds of thousands of people via his Twitter account.
Gabriel Zaliasnik (Chile) @gzaliasnik
Gabriel Zaliasnik is an award-winning lawyer and professor at the University of Chile and former president of the Jewish community in Chile. Peer-reviewed guide “Best Lawyers” identified him as the best criminal defense lawyer in Chile. He identifies as “deeply Zionist” and says that commitment to Israel has permeated his entire life.
Sammy Eppel (Venezuela) @sammyeppel
Sammy Eppel is an advocate for human rights in Venezuela, concentrating his advocacy on the Venezuelan government’s sponsored anti-Semitism and how it relates to Judeophobia. As a political analyst and journalist, he has written for the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal and has appeared as a guest commentator on radio and television in Venezuela and abroad. Eppel is a member of the governing body of the Venezuelan Jewish community (CAIV) and the acting director of the Commission of Human Rights of B’nai Brith Venezuela. He is a lecturer and presenter for the Hasbara Spanish program.
Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie (Mexico) @RabbiElieAbadie
Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie was born in Beirut and grew up in Mexico City as a refugee, later moving to the United States, and recently becoming the senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates. His family comes from a long line of Sephardi rabbis dating back to 15th century Spain and Provence. He is a member of the board of the American Sephardi Federation and the World Sephardic Educational Center, and lectures on Sephardic Judaism, history and comparative traditional law. Fluent not only in Spanish, but also in English, Hebrew, Arabic and French, as well as conversational in Italian and Portuguese, Rabbi Abadie acts as a bridge within and outside of the Jewish world. His work in the UAE is paramount for forging relationships between Israel and the Emirates, as well as normalizing relations with other Arab countries.
Alberto Levy (Panamá) @albertoalevy
Alberto Levy is a Panamanian lawyer and technology investor. He is on the board of directors of the Panama-Israel Chamber of Commerce, serves as vice president of B’nai B’rith Panama and president of the Anti-Defamation Commission of B’nai B’rith.
Gabriel Colodro (Chile) @gabrielcolodro
Gabriel Colodro is the president of the Chilean community of Israel, working to strengthen the links of solidarity between Chile and Israel. Their activities include fighting against BDS, which is an acute problem in Chile. In 2018, thanks to Colodro’s activism, the Chilean National Comptroller determined that it is illegal for municipalities in Chile to boycott Israel after the Valdivia municipality banned the city from signing contracts with companies linked to Israel. Colodro often calls out anti-Semitism in the Chilean parliament.
Jazmin Balaguer (Colombia) @jazbalaguer
Jazmin Balaguer is a political analyst who often appears on television programs and is known to defend Israel on social-media platforms. Balaguer also works as an academic researcher and columnist in Colombia for EI Expediente, an online investigative periodical.
Roni Kaplan (Uruguay) @CapitanKaplan
Roni Kaplan is the co-founder of Conexion Israel, where he organizes high-level visits to Israel for entrepreneurs, journalists and influencers, decision-makers and religious leaders. He is an advisor at the Israel Foreign Ministry for Latin American affairs and aims to strengthen ties between the Hispanic world and the State of Israel. Kaplan is also a partner in Aurora, a Spanish newspaper based in Israel, served in the IDF for nine years, working as a spokesperson for Latin America and Asia, and was the head of multiple international cooperation units.
Marcelo Isaacson (Chile) @marcelo_1811
Marcelo Isaacson is the executive director of the Jewish Community of Chile and was one of the central influencers that resulted in Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s second visit to Israel in 2019. The visit reinforced the link between the two countries, expanding relations in science and technology, which proved vital in the context of Chilean-Palestinian aims to undermine their relations.
Claudio Avruj (Argentina) @clauavruj
Claudio Avruj is an Argentinian politician who served as the country’s Secretary of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism, and has many long-held friendships in Argentina’s Jewish community, as well as in Israel. Avruj has also served as the director of B’nai B’rith Argentina (and later, the Caribbean, taking him to Venezuela and Panama). He was the executive director of the Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations (DAIA), the umbrella organization of Argentina’s Jewish community that works to fight anti-Semitism and incitement.
Jorge Knoblovits (Argentina) @JKnoblovits
Jorge Knoblovits is the vice president of Argentina’s World Jewish Congress, president of the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations and former president of the Delegatión of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA) since 2018. He is a lawyer and former member of the International Relations Commission of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights of Argentina. Argentina’s ministry of foreign affairs adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism under Knoblovits’ presidency, a move that he said would allow the country to better combat domestic anti-Semitism.
Gabriel Bem-Tasgal (Argentina) @gbentasgal
Gabriel Bem-Tasgal is the Argentina-born director of the public diplomacy program “HaTzad HaSheni,” dedicated to building bridges between Israel and the Spanish-speaking world through education about the Middle East, Islam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Known as one of the greatest hasbara experts for the Spanish-speaking world—combating BDS, terrorism, information bias, etc.—he is a journalist and specialist in the Middle East and Islamic terrorism.
Roberto Spindel (Mexico)
Roberto Spindel is the president of the Israel-Latin America Chamber of Commerce and the owner of Spin Marketing and Investments, a company specializing in business development for Israeli firms in Latin America. Settling in Israel in 1986 from Mexico City, he has spent most of his professional life dedicated to strengthening ties between Israel and Latin America through business. Spindel is also consulting regional authorities is LATAM in tourism, entrepreneurship and local economic development. He is a co-author of Spanish-language book How Israel Made me a Better Mexican, which was published as Israel celebrated 70 years of independence and 66 years of diplomatic relations with Mexico.
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