PM Netanyahu boards a plane 311 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked Sunday on a whirlwind visit to Latin America, the first of its kind for a sitting Israeli head of state.
It is part of a broader foreign policy push to develop ties with areas of the globe not traditionally on Israel’s diplomatic radar. While in the past the focus of Israeli foreign policy has been the US and Europe, in recent years there has been a concentrated effort to develop ties with countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Israel has much to offer these countries in the fields of agriculture, water management, cyber defense, counter- terrorism, crime fighting and other technologies.
Netanyahu’s first stop will be Argentina, where his day-and-a-half stay will coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 World Trade Center attack. He will visit the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, which was the site of a terrorist attack planned by groups connected with Iran that left 85 dead. He will also visit the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which was targeted by Islamist terrorists in 1992.
Netanyahu’s decision to choose Argentina as one his stops is no coincidence. In sharp contrast to the Kirchner government, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri is a strong supporter of Israel. Macri broke off attempts by the previous administration to improve ties and cooperation with Iran. He has also vowed to do more to get to the bottom of the bombings of the Israeli embassy and AMIA, and he is unabashed in his support for Israel and desire to improve economic and diplomatic ties.
Macri faces strong opposition from elements close to the Kirchner political machine and the anti-globalization Left. These groups are expected to hold demonstrations during Netanyahu’s visit, including a protest against the very existence of an Israeli Embassy in Argentina.
While in Argentina, Netanyahu will also meet with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, another strong supporter of Israel.
Unlike countries such as Brazil, Peru, Chile, El Salvador and Ecuador – which recalled their ambassadors during Operation Protection Edge – Cartes stood by Israel. Paraguay has also voted for Israel or abstained from Israel-related votes in the UN and other international forums since Cartes was elected in 2013.
Netanyahu’s next stops will be Colombia and Mexico.
In Colombia, Netanyahu will meet with President Juan Manuel Santos, sign bilateral agreements on science and tourism cooperation, and visit the local Jewish community.
In Mexico, the prime minister will meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto and sign joint agreements on space, aviation, communications and development cooperation.
While in Mexico City, Netanyahu will also address a forum to encourage bilateral trade and attend an event organized by the local Jewish community. Netanyahu’s travel plans were unaffected by Friday’s earthquake – the strongest to hit Mexico in a century – that killed dozens and was felt in the capital.
In the face of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, bias in the UN and other international forums, and the general prominence of antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric and sentiment, it is easy to forget that Israel also has quite a few friends scattered throughout the world. Widening our diplomatic efforts to those areas which have historically received less attention is important as part of the ongoing fight against unfounded attacks on the Jewish state.
In Latin America, criticism of Israel often goes hand in hand with anti-globalism or anti-American sentiments.
But it is encouraging to note and celebrate those Latin American countries which are led by leaders who seek strong ties with Israel, not just out of appreciation for Israel’s democratic values, but out of a strong self-interest.
Israel has much to offer. With the passage of time, more countries are beginning to realize this. Old prejudices are being set aside in favor of doing what is right from both a moral and pragmatic standpoint. Netanyahu’s visit reflects this simple fact.