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ARGENTINA | 17-01-2020 00:12

Symbolic and strategic: Fernández picks Israel for first foreign trip

President’s decision to visit Jerusalem next week welcomed by Jewish community in Buenos Aires.

In a move laden with symbolism, President Alberto Fernández on Thursday accepted an invitation to attend an international forum to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem.

The event, which marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, will be the Peronist leader’s first foreign trip as head of state and will take place just one week after the five-year anniversary of Alberto Nisman’s death.

Nisman was found dead on January 18, 2015, in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head, delivered at close range from a handgun found at his side. Just four days prior to his death, he had explosively denounced then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, among other Kirchner administration officials, for covering up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 AMIA Jewish community centre attack in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead. 

Fernández, who officially received an invitation from Israeil President Reuven Rivlin via the Israeli Embassy two weeks ago, will participate in the “International Forum of Leaders in Commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Fight Against anti-Semitism” while in Jerusalem. 

The event will take place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on January 23 with representatives from over 40 countries in attendance. A source inside the Israeli Embassy told the Times that Argentina will be the only country in the region represented at such a high level, with Fernández the only Latin American head of state to receive an invitation.

Commitment

The decision by the Peronist leader to accept the invitation comes just days after lawmaker Waldo Wolff, aligned with the opposition Junto por el Cambio coalition, had sent a letter to Foreign Minister Felipe Solá asking the administration to send an official representative to the event. 

Given the tense relationship between the Fernández de Kirchner administration and Israel — in large part due to the Nisman case — many in the Jewish community awaited his decision with great trepidation.

However, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Times on Thursday that Argentina’s economic turmoil and the transitional period between governments is what likely delayed a final decision. 

“Argentina is the only Latin American member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA),” said the spokesman, citing a long history of Argentine commitment to Holocaust education and remembrance. Argentina became a member of the alliance in 2002.

In addition to the event in Jerusalem, Argentina’s Ambassador to Belgium Pablo Grispun will also represent Argentina at an upcoming IHRA event in Brussels, and Ambassador to Poland Ana María Ramírez will be present at an upcoming remembrance event in Oswiecim, the city where Auschwitz is located, the spokesman confirmed.

Locally, Solá will lead the event for the International Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust at the San Martín Palace on January 27.

Welcome

The Jewish community in Buenos Aires reacted positively to the news.

“We believe that it is very important that Argentina’s figurehead be present at the event,” said AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) President Ariel Eichbaum, in a statement provided to the Times. “The commemoration will bring together leaders from all the world … to permanently remember the horror of the Holocaust and to renew the commitment of all nations to defend life above all else.”

 “In this sense, it is a great gesture for the Argentine president to participate in an act that, by remembering the Holocaust and promoting its educational value, helps to prevent future acts of genocide,” he added.

“It’s more proof for the strength of the relationship we have, the fact that the first international trip of the president will be to Israel,” said Ronen Kraus, deputy chief-of-mission at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. 

The Embassy confirmed that there will be over 40 countries represented, with Emmanuel Macron of France, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Mike Pence of the United States expected to attend.

The decision, though an important and symbolic show of solidarity, was also a strategic one for the Fernández administration, said Paulo Botta, the executive director of the Middle East programme at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA).

'Partners'

 “Argentina is looking for partners,” Botta told the Times, citing the nation’s economic turmoil, heavy debt-load and US$44-billion loan with the International Monetary Fund. 

“The Peronists have historically seen Israel as an extension of the United States…in this way, it helps him get closer to the US,” he added.

Though no bilateral meetings between Fernández and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently facing corruption and bribery charges in the courts, are currently scheduled, Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero told Infobae this week that the Casa Rosada hopes to arrange one. 

Fernández heading to Israel brings with it another consequence; in his absence, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will functionally again be head of state, some 1,503 days after after her second term came to its conclusion.

Joseph Charney

Joseph Charney

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