Latin American MPs sign resolution supporting Israel and opposing boycotts.
(photo credit: ISRAEL ALLIES FOUNDATION)
It is often stated that Miami is the gateway to Latin America. A little over two weeks ago it served as the gateway to build Latin America-Israel relations as 21 parliamentarians from across the Southern Hemisphere gathered at the Israel Allies Foundation’s (IAF) Latin America Summit on Israel. The event reflects a growing trend in Latin American and Caribbean countries toward an openness to engage and rebuild relations with the Jewish state despite recent diplomatic rows.
IAF Latin America director Leopoldo Martínez organized the summit and is spearheading a rapidly expanding program in the region. Martinez noted the “tremendous opportunity for Israel in Latin America” especially with recent political changes in countries like Argentina and in his home country of Venezuela.
There is a visible shift occurring in Latin America away from the authoritarian regimes of the past toward democracy. As those democratic forces win a place in parliaments and in government sectors, Israel serves as the ultimate example to the region of a vibrant, successful democracy surrounded by mostly totalitarian, dictatorial regimes.
In countries like Venezuela, whose engagement with Iran and its proxies skyrocketed under Chavez, their move toward democratization coincides with an interest in rebuilding relations with the only democracy in the Middle East. At this week’s summit, attendee Congressman Julio Borges, chief of fraction of the political opposition in the Venezuelan National Assembly said it was critical to reverse the trend of the past and strengthen relations with Israel.
In the last few years, a number of South American countries have formally recognized a Palestinian state and have improved their ties with the Palestinian Authority and Iran.
In 2010 Brazil’s recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders led to a domino effect in the region with almost every South American country following its lead. Only Panama, Mexico and Colombia have not done so.
While current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has cooled relations with Iran, just over a month ago Brazil opened the first Palestinian embassy in the Western Hemisphere on land donated by former president Lula da Silva. Sitting on an uncharacteristically large plot for a diplomatic mission, the embassy building is crowned with a golden dome, a doppelganger of the Dome of Rock on the Temple Mount. Given the PA’s on again, off again relationship with Hamas, this visual piece of propaganda sits in uncomfortably close proximity to the Brazilian Congress and the Supreme Court, among other government buildings.
Since last year, in an unprecedented diplomatic slap to the face, Brazil has rejected Israel’s nominated ambassador, Dani Dayan, who also flew into Miami for the summit to speak. A newly elected deputado with Arab ancestry, Carlos Marun, initially raised opposition to Dayan’s appointment, equating it to “Germany sending to Brazil as an ambassador a former concentration camp guard.” He claims to have no problem with Israel, whose recognized borders already “take up 85 percent of Palestine,” but opposes the settlers who are “agents of Zionism that the world cannot accept.” Others have taken the more politically correct route and attribute their opposition to the Netanyahu government supposedly not following diplomatic protocol in its announcement of Dayan’s nomination.
Yet the real opposition is due to Dayan’s former role as chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. In a stunning defense of Dayan’s appointment, four senators and 199 deputados federales – a little more than one third of the Brazilian Congress – signed a letter to President Rousseff supporting Dayan’s appointment. The letter was promoted by the Evangelical parliamentary bloc and initiated by Congresswoman Geovania de sa Rodrigues, the vice president of the bloc. The front is comprised of Evangelical Christians from many different political parties.
Brazil serves as a microcosm of the region, where political opposition to Israel has less to do with reflecting the will of the people – a majority of whom are either Catholic or Evangelical Christians – than it does with authoritarian Latin American leaders aligning themselves with Iran and its allies.
According to Pew Research Poll results from 2014, almost 90% of Latin Americans identify as Christians.
While two-thirds of adherents are Catholic, it is precisely this foundation of shared values that inspires significant grassroots support for Israel in Latin American countries.
The same poll also revealed a recurring shift in almost every South American nation – a steady rise in Evangelical numbers, especially Pentecostal, and a decline in Catholicism. Evangelicals, who hold the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant word of God, as a whole are generally very pro-Israel. In El Salvador, an Evangelical church by the name of Tabernaculo Bíblico Bautista “Amigos de Israel,” or “Friends of Israel” Bible Baptist Tabernacle, runs five services on Sundays with an estimated 48,000 in attendance per week. The church has a long history of support for the State of Israel.
In recent presidential elections in Argentina, Evangelicals are largely credited for helping elect pro-Israel presidential candidate Mauricio Macri. At the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Israel, which regularly draws crowds of around 5,000, a loud and proud Brazilian contingency many times comprises a good onethird of international attendees. In many Latin American countries, like Brazil, the number of Evangelicals in government is rapidly growing.
Despite recent challenges to Latin American and Israeli relations, the 20 parliamentarians gathered in Miami, many of them in high-ranking positions, proved the depth of the untapped political support for Israel in region. This support is largely based on shared Judeo-Christian values and because of that will not falter, despite political conditions.
While Miami may be the gateway to Latin America, it is clear that the Land of Israel and the history and values that originated from there, are the gateway to the hearts and minds to many in leadership worldwide.
Faith-based diplomacy continues to prove itself the most effective tool in strengthening real relations and unbreakable support for the State of Israel in modern times.The writer is the Israel Allies Foundation’s deputy director of the Jerusalem Call, an outreach initiative to mobilize faith-based politically advocacy for Israel and a united Jerusalem.