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Israel-Palestine: Who is Argentina’s Israel-loving president-elect, Javier Milei?

Milei says he wants to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem and is a longstanding supporter of Israel
Milei is known for his libertarian platform and off-the-cuff demeanour (AFP/Luis Robayo)

Argentina has elected Javier Milei to be its next president, a vote that will be welcomed in Israel given the self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist’s outspoken support for the state.

Milei has won adoration in his home country for his off-the-cuff demeanour and tendency to speak without filter.

His public appearances have included loud and unabashed displays of support for Israel, such as waving its flag and having himself pictured with books on Jewish history while wearing the kippah head covering.

Milei’s election is likely to signal a significant, and for the Israelis a welcome, shift in Argentina’s approach to the conflict with Palestinians, at a time when several other Latin American countries have strongly condemned Israel for its ongoing assault in Gaza

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro, for example, has called Israel’s killing of civilians in the besieged enclave a “genocide”, while Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has made similar remarks.

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Bolivia has cut ties with Israel, while the current Argentinian government has issued a condemnation of Israel over its bombing of refugee camps.

“Nothing justifies the violation of international humanitarian law,” the country’s foreign ministry has said.

Milei’s agenda therefore represents a new dawn for ties between Buenos Aires and Israel.

Interest in Judaism

According to the Spanish daily El Pais, a major milestone in Milei’s journey towards philo-semitism and Zionism began in 2021 when he was trying to counter accusations of neo-Nazi sympathies.

A Jewish contact put the former economist in touch with Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish, with whom Milei had a “cabalistic” encounter in which he was told he would lead a liberation movement in his home country.

The word “cabalistic” is a reference to Kabbalah, a mystic branch of Judaism. Milei is reported to have an interest in eastern mysticism and has worked as a tantric sex coach.

Milei’s has continued his relationship with Wahnish, with the latter serving as Milei’s Torah tutor.

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“He is my main rabbi today. He is a truly remarkable person, and obviously, along with my sister, they are my spiritual guides,” Milei said of Wahnish in an interview with the Times of Israel.

The Argentinian president-elect, according to El Pais, even considered converting to Judaism but decided against doing so because Sabbath restrictions would not allow him to campaign on Saturdays.

Despite not converting, Milei has used Jewish symbolism in his campaign rallies, such as the image of the shofar. 

A wind instrument made from a ram’s horn, the shofar is used in Jewish tradition for various rituals, including the start of a new year.  It symbolises the awakening of the soul and appears in biblical episodes, such as the fall of Jericho.

Milei’s campaign team also wears caps emblazoned with the phrase “The Forces of Heaven” , a reference to the Maccabean uprising of Jews against Greek religious influence on Jewish life in the second century BCE.

From Judaism to Zionism

In Milei’s case, an interest in Judaism has translated into full-throated support for Israel and its ongoing war in Gaza.

His waving of the Israeli flag at nearly every public appearance he makes comes coupled with concrete promises to strengthen the bond between Argentina and Israel.

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With regard to Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians, including at least 5,000 children, Milei has said that Israel has the right to “defend its territory from terrorists”.

Milei also told the Times of Israel that he intends to designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation for its role in the 7 October assault on southern Israel, which killed around 1,200 people.

Also significant is his pledge in the same interview to join a handful of countries, including the US, which have moved their embassies to Jerusalem.

“I don’t care if I’ll be criticised by world leaders. I truly believe that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Given Argentina’s recent history of economic troubles and consequent low profile on the international stage, it is unlikely Milei’s enthusiastic support of Israel will be anything other than symbolic.

That support comes at a time when Israel is in need of friends, as its allies in the West become increasingly uneasy about the impact its war in Gaza is having on civilians.

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