His dad was an imam, his wife has Jewish roots: Meet El Salvador’s new leader
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'I know God does not reject anyone because of their origins'

His dad was an imam, his wife has Jewish roots: Meet El Salvador’s new leader

Nayib Bukele’s grandfather was a Christian Palestinian from Jerusalem, which didn’t stop president-elect visiting in 2018 — and this week recalling his stop at the Western Wall

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Then-mayor of San Salvador Nayib Bukele at the Western Wall, February 2018 (courtesy American Jewish Congress)
Then-mayor of San Salvador Nayib Bukele at the Western Wall, February 2018 (courtesy American Jewish Congress)

His paternal grandparents were Christian Palestinians from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. His maternal grandparents were also Christians; she a Catholic and he Greek Orthodox. His father later converted to Islam and became an imam. And his wife has Jewish roots.

Meet Nayib Bukele, the president-elect of El Salvador.

The 37-year-old center-right politician, who himself is not very religious but says he believes in Jesus, on Sunday won the Central American country’s presidential elections with 53 percent of the vote, and will take office on June 1.

El Salvador, a country about the size of Israel, with some 7.5 million inhabitants, is not considered a major player in international diplomacy. Nonetheless, Israel has welcomed the potential for a warm bilateral relationship.

“We are looking forward to strengthening relations between the two countries, which has been characterized by friendship over the years,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

In 2015, the Israeli ambassador to El Salvador praised Bukele as a “partner for cooperation,” but besides that very little is known about his views on the Jewish state and the Middle East’s various conflicts.

Still Bukele, who until April 2018 served as mayor of the capital, San Salvador, came to Israel last year on a government-sponsored trip, and is not afraid to talk about it.

After winning the election Sunday, he retweeted a picture showing him in deep reflection at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. At the time, he also posted a video of his visit at the holy site on his Instagram account:

Then-mayor of Bukele was in Israel to participate in the 32nd International Mayors Conference, in February 2018, having received an official invite from Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conference, which was partly sponsored by the Israeli government, took him to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a bid to “build relationships, and learn about Israeli technology and innovation,” according to a press release issued by the American Jewish Congress, which co-organizes the conference.

In the capital, he also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.

At the time, Bukele introduced his wife Gabriele, a psychologist and educator, to then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, telling him that she “has Jewish-Sephardic blood.”

While the couple have posted family photos with Christmas trees on social media, the president-elect has indicated that he is not a deeply religious man.

His late father, Armando Bukele Kattán, who was born in El Salvador after his parents left Palestine, converted to Islam and became a well-known Muslim cleric. He “always considered [Jews] his brothers,” the president-elect said of Kattán.

His grandparents come to El Salvador from Palestine, “the land where Jesus was born,” as children, Bukele said in an 2015 interview, after he was confronted with an anonymous blog that criticized him for ostensibly trying to conceal his past.

“My father in his adulthood decided to convert to Islam. Everyone knows he is the leader of the Muslim community in El Salvador; he also has a very good relationship with the Jewish, Christian, Lutheran, Anglican and Buddhist communities,” he said.

“Personally, I am not a person who believes much in the liturgy of religions,” he added. “However, I believe in God, in Jesus Christ. I believe in his word, I believe in his word revealed in the Holy Bible. And I know that God does not reject anyone because of their origins.”

Earlier this year, in a lengthy Facebook post about his religious views, he reiterated that he respects all faiths but stresses that he himself is “not religious because I’m sure there are more sincere prayers in the corridors of hospitals than in most churches.”

Posted by Nayib Bukele on Monday, 7 January 2019

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