Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s surprising words of support for Israel’s right to exist and empathy with the tragedies of Jewish history elicited warm words from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and a letter of thanks from President Shimon Peres over the weekend.

Castro, in a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, said Israel “without a doubt” has the right to exist, and criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his Holocaust denial, saying Iran should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism.

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“I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” Castro said. “I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.”

On Wednesday, Goldberg wrote on his blog that Castro said he understands how such Jewish suffering could inform the decision-making of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“Now, let’s imagine that I were Netanyahu,” Castro said, “that I were there and I sat down to reason through [the issues facing Israel], I would remember that six million Jewish men and women, of all ages were exterminated in the concentration camps.”

According to Goldberg, Castro also expressed great admiration for Netanyahu’s father, Ben-Zion, the world's foremost historian of the Spanish Inquisition, and said he was impressed “by his character, his knowledge and his history.”


Netanyahu’s office sent out a statement Saturday saying Castro’s words “demonstrate his deep understanding of the history of the Jewish people and Israel.”

The Prime Minister’s Office also sent out links to Goldberg’s blog related to the Castro interview. A source in the Prime Minister’s Office explained that Castro’s words were being highlighted because the former Cuban president is an icon to the world’s radical-left which is trying to de-legitimize Israel and say it has no right to exist. Castro’s comments about Israel’s fundamental legitimacy are therefore not without significance, he said.

Peres, meanwhile sent a letter to Castro via Israel’s ambassador to the UN to his Cuban counterpart, saying that Castro’s “unexpected” words “moved” him. “Your words are like a surprising bridge between a harsh reality and a new horizon,” Peres wrote in Spanish. “And for that I thank you with all my heart. You showed that even those distant can be close."

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