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Interesting friends of Israel and Trump

  • Paula
I am in Buenos Aires to report on the G20 world leaders summit. It has been a diplomatic test for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. It was his first international gathering after a damning Central Intelligence Agency report blamed him for ordering the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
by PAULA SLIER | Dec 06, 2018

He needn’t have worried. British Prime Minister Theresa May threatened that she would push him on his role in the murder, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that her country would not export arms to the Saudi Kingdom in the current “uncertain” climate. However, American President Donald Trump welcomed him warmly to the Argentinian capital.

Trump’s thinking is clear. Riyadh is important to the United States because of the huge number of deals it has signed with US defence contractors. It is also crucial in the battle against Iran and, as the president himself has said, “it helps Israel”. Jerusalem could not agree more.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said on more than one occasion that to ensure the stability of the world and the region, Saudi Arabia must itself remain stable. And, Netanyahu wants to keep his friends.

This is why it is significant that the G20 took place in Argentina. Since becoming President of South America’s second-largest economy three years ago, Mauricio Macri, of the centre-right political coalition Cambiemos has strived to revitalise the occasionally-strained relations between Argentina and the Jewish state.

His efforts have brought hope to the mostly pro-Israel Argentinian Jewish community, and he’s been praised by Netanyahu for being “a true friend of Israel”.

Relations between the two countries have had ups-and-downs over the years. There have also been rampant manifestations of anti-Semitism, particularly following the capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organisers of the Holocaust, by Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, in 1960.

One of the must-see side-line visits for my post-G20 travels was 14 Garibaldi Street – now 4261 – Buenos Aires. This is the place where Eichmann was living under the pseudonym of Ricardo Klement until he was forcibly brought to Israel to face trial.

The house no longer exists, and the plot has been purchased by the authorities to prevent it from becoming a shrine or place of interest for future neo Nazis or anti-Semites. Today, it’s just an empty piece of land.

To some extent, Macri has managed to combat any residual Jew-hatred that was tolerated, if not encouraged, by previous administrations. It is fairly common to see Jewish men walking in the streets of Buenos Aires wearing yarmulkes, and the community numbers more than 180 000, the largest in Latin America.

Last year, Macri handed over 140 000 World War II documents to Israel that shed light on the assistance Argentina gave to war criminals seeking refuge after the Holocaust. As many as 5 000 Nazi officers and collaborators found refuge in the country. A further 2 000 fled to Chile, and between 1 500 to 2 000 to Brazil. Among Macri’s documents were secret files and photographs from 1939 to 1950 that he told Netanyahu were handed over “so that the state of Israel can make sure that they are investigated. This is very important for us.”

The G20 was another important event for the Argentine president. This year has arguably been his most difficult in office. There is a lot of anger against conservative financial policies that he insists are necessary to repair what was done to the economy by his predecessor, populist Cristina Kirchner.

Macri sought a record $56 billion (R773 billion) aid package from the International Monetary Fund after the country’s currency crisis dragged it into recession. He has boosted ties with the US and Israel in an effort to attract foreign investment.

I’ve been asking how a right-wing president can support Israel? When I pose this question to Argentinians, they don’t see any contradiction.

Both countries, local Jews are quick to point out, share common concern about the rise of international terrorism and the danger posed by Iran and Hezbollah. The latter has reportedly been using South American countries for money laundering, and there is concern this could develop into larger criminal, perhaps even terrorist activities.

Macri and Netanyahu see eye-to-eye on issues like free trade, development, and security. The Argentinian president has been trying to encourage other South American leaders to warm to Netanyahu, and build stronger relations with Israel. Jerusalem’s intelligence expertise and burgeoning technology sector are a huge attraction.

The eight years under Macri’s predecessor, Kirchner, resulted in a sharp deterioration in ties between Jerusalem and Buenos Aires. Kirchner’s recognition of Palestine as a “free and independent state”, and her tweets which reinforced anti-Semitic stereotypes, are said to have contributed to increased anti-Semitism online.

Relations worsened when in January 2013, she signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Iran that included a “truth commission” to jointly investigate the two bombings of Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. These attacks left 114 people killed and more than 500 wounded.

In the first attack in March 1992, a suicide bomber drove a truck into the front of the Israeli embassy. Two years later, a suicide bomber drove a van into the headquarters of the Buenos Aires’ Jewish community. It is Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack to date.

But since Macri assumed office, he’s pushed for a separate full and complete investigation. He has called for the same into the suspected murder of Jewish Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who established that Iran was responsible for the bombings. Nisman accused Kirchner of covering up Tehran’s role. In June last year, an Argentine federal court found Nisman had been murdered as a direct consequence of his accusation against the former president.

Macri was the first Argentinian president in five years to attend a remembrance service marking the anniversary of the bombings. He left a wreath in front of the Jewish community centre building, and offered consolation to the bereaved. He also met surviving victims of the Israeli embassy bombing.

A memorial in front of the Jewish community centre lists the names of those who died, and a fervent hope that such a disaster never be repeated.

Under the current Argentinian leadership, things look good for Jews and Israel; but it is the economic uncertainty of the country that will determine whether Macri remains in power or not.

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