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Milei's Hobby-Like Interest in Judaism Strikes Fear in Argentina's Jewish Community - Report

© AP Photo / Manu FernandezArgentina's President Javier Milei gestures as he presents his book "El camino del libertario" in Madrid, Spain, Friday, May 17, 2024
Argentina's President Javier Milei gestures as he presents his book El camino del libertario in Madrid, Spain, Friday, May 17, 2024 - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.06.2024
Although the eccentric leader was born and raised Roman Catholic, he has reportedly shown a public interest in Judaism and even expressed a desire to convert.
As Israel faces increasing isolation and condemnation from the world for its military invasion and assault on the Gaza Strip, President Javier Milei of Argentina has shown unrelenting support of the Israeli government, AP News reported. But his favoritism for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government differs sharply from that of the rest of Latin America.
On Wednesday, Brazil withdrew its ambassador to Israel following months of tensions between the two countries regarding Israel’s war in Gaza.
And in late October, Bolivia severed diplomatic ties with Israel in response to Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. Their South American neighbors Colombia and Chile also recalled their ambassadors at the time for consultations and lambasted Israel’s attacks on Gaza, as well as condemned the killings of Palestinian citizens.
But Milei’s surprising devotion to Israel and Judaism is now provoking tension amongst his country’s neighbors.
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In February, Milei met an Orthodox rabbi who first introduced him to Judaism three years prior. While praying, the unconventional president “appeared to be in a spiritual trance” according to the AP News report. When he pulled back from his prayer at the base of the sacred Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, he reportedly broke down into tears and hugged Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish while crying onto his shoulder.

“In that moment, I felt proud that we have such a determined leader, with such deep spiritual values,” Wahnish told AP.

At an event commemorating the 81st anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising last month, Milei spoke to a group of Jewish community leaders. His remarks seemed to be a criticism of those turning their support from Israel in response to their violence against Palestinians; “Among great nations that should be pillars of the free world, I see indifference in some and fear in others about standing on the side of truth.”
According to the AP report, Milei’s fascination with the Jewish community first rose to the surface in 2021 when he was accused of harboring pro-Nazi sympathies. After connecting with Wahnish (who was recently appointed Argentina’s ambassador to Israel) to have a “chat that was supposed to last 10 minutes and ended two hours later,” according to Wahnish, Milei began his education on Judaism.
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But the Argentinian president’s religious interests are reportedly making the country's Jewish population nervous. Argentina’s Jewish community, which is one of the biggest in the world, is still deeply scarred by lethal bombings that targeted Israel’s embassy in 1992 and the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994. While Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah were accused of the attacks no one has been officially held responsible.

“Milei has a messianic mind, and this is quite dangerous,” said Diana Malamud, whose husband was among the 85 people killed in the AMIA attack. “His policies can not only stoke conflicts at the international level... but also generate anti-Semitism within our country.”

Prior to Milei’s presidency, almost 4,000 Argentine Jewish members signed a petition that voiced concern over Milei’s “political use of Judaism.” And while Netanyahu has referred to Milei as a “great friend”, Hamas has labeled him “a partner of the Zionist occupier.”
And for the first time last month Argentina denied recognition of Palestinian statehood when Milei's government joined the US and Israel in a vote against Palestinian membership at the UN.
“If Milei’s supposed defense of Israel is an attack on Palestinian rights, it puts the Jewish community in Argentina at risk,” said Héctor Shalom, director of Argentina’s Anne Frank Center. “The decades of impunity for past attacks show our vulnerability.”
Thus far an estimated 36,439 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip and 82,627 wounded since October 7, according to the Palestinian enclave’s Health Ministry. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that practically no health services remain in Rafah after the al-Helal al-Emirati hospital closed, Sputnik reported on Sunday.
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