A SIGN calls on US President Donald Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’m what Panama calls a “pre-candidate” for the presidency of our nation. Which means I care about my country, I’m building a movement to do something about its future, and I’m deeply compliant with the election laws of our land, which prohibit overt campaigning. And you thought Israeli politics had its quirks.
I also just came back from a trip to Israel, which has increased my resolve to stand up for what’s right in my country and around the world.
Israel has a lot in common with Panama. For both of us, geography is destiny. As nations, we’re both proud and we don’t suffer fools. Patriotism is not a dirty word in Spanish or Hebrew. And where Israel rose out of the sand, the modern version of Panama has emerged from the jungle.
For both of our countries, the United States and its people play an enormous, mostly positive role. In both our histories, we have had politicians who exceed expectations and some who have confirmed our worst doubts about the motives of people in public service. Democracy in Panama is also a little like Israel; loud, imperfect and irrepressible.
Like Israelis, Panamanians love to argue. The frankness of Israelis is, of course, one of your great charms.
You may not know that there are about 20,000 Jews in Panama. For some perspective, that’s only a few thousand less than Italy, which has 15 times the population. Jews started coming to Panama in the early 1800s. As with so many other places, they came seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. These days, a good part of the growth in the Panamanian Jewish community has come from Venezuelans fleeing antisemitic hatred stirred up by the late Hugo Chavez and the current Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro. Like Israel, Panama is a place people come to feel safe. Though we struggle with the issues around immigration and assimilation.
Sound familiar? As much as anything I’m left with after my time in Israel is the idea that small countries can be powerful leaders. The Israeli success story is a beacon for countries everywhere, big and small. Who would have thought that a “start-up nation” would now be thriving in Jerusalem? And if Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat and his citizens can overcome terrorism, nasty politics and armed attackers in the street, we Panamanians can surely resolve our problems.
As leaders and regular citizens, part of the solution is holding ourselves to a higher standard.
The measure of a society is how it takes care of its most vulnerable people, not its strongest, or wealthiest. What Israel chooses to do as a democracy matters for the world. The way Panama creates a more inclusive society, where more people share in prosperity, matters to the leaders everywhere who would exploit poverty to create division and hate.
As we aspire to be new leaders on the world stage, the way we conduct ourselves toward the rest of the world is important. I believe Palestinians have inalienable rights and they deserve a country. At the same time, like American President Donald Trump, I also believe foreign diplomatic missions to Israel should locate their embassies in Jerusalem. And I understand Israelis who are frustrated that the Trump promise has not yet been fulfilled. To paraphrase a hopeful prayer Jews in the Diaspora know well, there is always next year in Jerusalem.
If I’m honored enough to be in the position to make the call, I’ll move Panama’s embassy to Jerusalem. Because the symbol matters. Actions matter. Israel matters.The author is the CEO of Grupo Eleta which owns some of Panama’s largest businesses in energy, media, telecom and agriculture.