Argentinian President-elect says he will visit Israel ahead of inauguration

The new Argentine leader studies Torah with Rabbi Shimon Wahnish, who is based in Buenos Aires.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

Javier Milei, the victor in Argentina’s presidential election on Sunday, has said that he will visit both the United States and Israel in advance of taking office.

“I travel with some regularity to the United States. From New York I will go to Israel — we have already been talking to the Israeli Ambassador in Argentina,” Milei disclosed in a radio interview on Monday morning.

A populist maverick who defines himself as an “anarcho-capitalist” and has been dubbed “El Loco” (“The Crazy One”) by critics, Milei’s love of Judaism and strong support for Israel were central features of his campaign, demonstrated by the frequent appearance of Israeli flags at his campaign rallies.

The new Argentine leader studies Torah with Rabbi Shimon Wahnish, who is based in Buenos Aires, and has openly talked on several occasions about converting to Judaism — adding the caveat that doing so would be impossible if he was elected president, as the demands of the office would be incompatible with observing core Jewish practices like Shabbat, when observant Jews do not use telephones and electronic devices. His forthcoming trip to the US would be centered on spending time with his “rabbi friends” in New York, he said, explaining that his visit “has more of a spiritual connotation than anything else.”

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Among the first individuals to meet with Milei following his triumph over his left-wing rival Sergio Massa — garnering 56 percent of the votes against 44 percent in the second round of the election — were the Israeli Ambassador in Buenos Aires, Eyal Sela, along with a delegation from the AMIA Jewish Center in the Argentine capital.

A separate statement from the DAIA, the representative body of Argentina’s 180,000-strong Jewish community, congratulated Milei on his victory, highlighting a fresh opportunity to “fight against antisemitism, discrimination, and xenophobia”; as with many other countries around the world, antisemitism has surged in Argentina in the wake of the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s military response.

The DAIA statement also invoked the more than 240 hostages seized by Hamas terrorists during their onslaught, pointing out that their number includes 21 Argentine citizens. “We want the Argentine authorities … to use all available resources to obtain the freedom of the hostages and their prompt return home,” the statement declared. On the campaign trail, Milei had been critical of the previous Argentine government in this regard, asserting that its “position is too soft for this aberrant situation. It does not advance the definitions in a concrete way and leaves the door open to terrorists. And with terrorists there is no negotiation.”

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The Israeli government was also quick to congratulate Milei, with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen reminding the president-elect of his campaign promise to move Argentina’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the capital Jerusalem.

“We look forward to working together with you to strengthen relations between Israel and Argentina and deepen ties between our peoples,” Cohen wrote in a post on X/Twitter. “I invite you to visit Israel soon, to continue our dialogue and inaugurate the Argentine Embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

The victory of Milei — an economist and TV pundit — comes at a time of extreme economic hardship in Argentina, where annual inflation has risen to 143 percent with 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line. His election suggests that the majority of Argentines want to break the mold of their country’s politics, opting to take a risk on a candidate who blames Argentina’s central bank for the current financial crisis and advocates replacing the peso, the national currency, with the US dollar. An ardent admirer of former US President Donald Trump, Milei is an unabashed social conservative, opposing abortion, supporting the liberalization of gun ownership laws, and expressing skepticism about climate change.