(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s office)
Dios Bendiga Israel – God bless Israel. This is not a statement many Israelis hear when traveling abroad.
Except in Colombia.
I have been told this over and over by locals during my three visits there, the most recent of which was in October.
My first serving of blessings on my latest trip was delivered by a lady standing behind the counter at a dry cleaning store in Cali, Colombia’s third largest city. I only went in to ask for directions, but as soon as the lady heard where I was from, she started blessing me and told me how she and her church pray for Israel and love Israel. Some may have been surprised by such behavior, I wasn’t. I have encountered it so many times that I have become used to it.
If only Israelis could get used to such compliments when traveling in other countries. If anything, they are concerned about mentioning their nationality, especially in parts of Europe, as it could lead to insults or even verbal abuse.
Such affection is not confined to religious members of society and those who belong to the Evangelical churches which are growing in numbers and strength in Colombia. One can find tremendous respect and a sense of kinship from secular members of society as well.
CAROLINA LEDESMAN, 33, is one such person. A graphic design lecturer at Cali’s Universidad Autonoma, she becomes very animated when talking about Israel’s great achievements in telecommunications, defense and agriculture.
“Israel is world renowned in all these fields. It’s a miracle, what Israel has achieved in such a short space of time.”
What should warm the heart of many Israelis is that such friendship and affection doesn’t only emanate from the heart of the people of Colombia. It is also supported by their intellect, especially from the young.
This should be a source of pride. Young Colombians are some of the most well educated in all of Latin America.
This is not only on paper, you can bear witness to it when speaking with them.
While giving a lecture on current conflicts in the Middle East at Cali’s Universidad San Buenaventura, I was blown away by the knowledge some of the students had about this region. Their intelligent questions were not only about Israel. They also asked detailed questions about Iran, and specifically about the Green movement and about Neda Agha Soltan , the woman shot dead on the streets of Teheran after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009. What was even more amazing was that many of those who ask savvy questions were not students of Middle Eastern studies.
The degree of liberalism and open-mindedness among young Colombians is also amazing. This was manifested in the strong showing of Antanas Muckus’s Green party in the last elections; it won 30 percent of the vote. Aside from Germany, nowhere in the world have those who support green energy and green living made such a strong political showing.
What makes Colombia even more special in this regard is that it has been
suffering from 50 years of guerrilla war, yet that doesn’t seem to have
dampened the forward looking energy of its youth. There are many other
countries which have enjoyed 50 years of uninterrupted peace, yet one
would be hard-pressed to find such hope for the future.
Intellectual Colombians show their affection for Israel not only by
expressing their admiration, but also by worrying about its future.
“Israel is an amazing country which has made many contributions to the
world. But these days all we hear about Israel on the news is about
building in the West Bank which is against every single UN resolution
and putting unfair sieges on Gaza which only helps the extremists. Why
is the Israeli government doing this? This causes immense damage to the
peace process and to Israel’s future,” lamented Ledesman.
Many Israelis would be delighted that a university lecturer and a mother
who has never been to Israel cares so much for this country that she
worries about its future.
Many Israelis who have lived here for many generations feel the same.
The first verse of Colombia’s national anthem reads: “O gloria
inmarcesible, O júbilo inmortal, En surcos de dolores, el bien germina
ya.” “O unfading glory, O immortal joy, In furrows of pain, the good has
The recent decision by the government to dispatch 50 tons of aid to
flood victims near the city of Medellin is Israel’s way of recognizing
the furrows of pain, while helping the good to emerge soon.
Dios bendiga Colombia.
The writer is a Middle East analyst and an adjunct professor of Iranian studies at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
He is coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Teheran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.