ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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In first bilateral visit, Argentina’s Milei says he will move embassy to Jerusalem

Accompanied by his rabbi, pro-Israel leader tells President Herzog that his country is working to declare Hamas a terror organization

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Argentinian President Javier Milei visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on February 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Argentinian President Javier Milei visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on February 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Argentinian President Javier Milei landed on Tuesday in Israel, where he announced that he would be moving Argentina’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Milei, who made Israel the destination of his first bilateral visit since he assumed the presidency in December, had pledged to make the move during his election campaign.

There have been no practical steps taken around the move, and there is no Argentinian ambassador in Israel.

Still, an Israeli diplomat told The Times of Israel that “the positive statement is important,” and “we look forward to Argentina opening the sixth embassy in Jerusalem.”

The Hamas terror group blasted Milei’s statement, saying it viewed the move as “an infringement of the rights of our Palestinian people to their land, and a violation of the rules of international law, considering Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian land.”

Currently, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Papua New Guinea and Kosovo have embassies in Jerusalem.

Other countries, including Hungary and the Czech Republic, have embassy branches in the capital.

Argentina’s president-elect, Javier Milei, second right, visits the Montefiore Cemetery after praying next to Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis at the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in New York, November 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Milei’s personal rabbi, Shimon Axel Wahnish, joined the former economist on his visit, and is expected to become the envoy.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz met Milei at Ben Gurion Airport, and thanked the Argentinian for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza and for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz (R) welcomes Argentinian President Javier Milei (L) at Ben Gurion Airport, February 6, 2024. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

“You are a person of values ​​who is committed only to the truth,” Katz told Milei, speaking through a translator, “and it is no wonder that you chose to come to Israel right away to support us in the just struggle for the defense of the Jewish people against the murderers of Hamas.”

Milei also met with President Isaac Herzog, and was welcomed with an IDF band playing the national anthems of both countries, the first such welcome since the war with Hamas began on October 7.

During their Jerusalem meeting, Herzog told his counterpart that Israel “cannot wait any longer” to bring the hostages home from Gaza.

Argentinian President Javier Milei meets with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, February 6, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“You will be visiting a country that was attacked brutally on 7 October by a brutal terrorist organization, which carried out a barbaric and sadistic attack on the people of Israel, and has taken hostage hundreds of people,” said Herzog in a public statement alongside Milei. “Now we have 136 hostages in Gaza, we are praying and working tirelessly to bring them back home as soon as possible.

“And I know that you’re supporting this fight, and I’m delivering the message through you to the entire world as well: We want them home as soon as possible,” Herzog continued. “This cannot wait any longer. Their suffering is immense. And this is against any rules of human values.”

Milei responded that he had sent a bill to Argentina‘s Congress demanding the release of all hostages, including Argentinian citizens.

He also said Argentina was working to declare Hamas a terror organization.

The two leaders were also set to visit Kibbutz Nir Oz in the Gaza border area later, which was heavily attacked by Hamas on October 7.

Argentinian President Javier Milei visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on February 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Milei visited the Western Wall later on Tuesday and is slated to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his war cabinet on Wednesday.

Hamas terrorists near Kibbutz Nir Oz during the massacre on October 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)

A number of Argentinian citizens are still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, including brothers Eitan and Yair Horn, who were kidnapped from Nir Oz.

Milei brought Argentina’s Foreign Minister Diana Mondino along with him on the three-day trip, in addition to Wahnish. While Milei is not Jewish, he has expressed an interest in Judaism and has talked about potentially converting to the religion.

He studies with Wahnish in Buenos Aires, has quoted Torah passages in rallies, and walked out on stage for a campaign event to a recording of a shofar.

On his first trip abroad after winning the election in November, Milei visited the tomb of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Queens, New York.

After his victory, Milei also participated in a Havdalah ceremony to mark the end of Shabbat in Once, a Jewish neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where he received blessings from the Kabbalist Rabbi David Hanania Pinto.

Milei will head on Thursday to Italy and the Vatican, where he will meet with Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Milei called Francis “the evil one,” and an “imbecile” who “promotes communism” before his election, but the two seem to be working to reconcile.

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