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What motivates a president of Argentina to call for the demolition of Al-Aqsa Mosque?

February 29, 2024 at 2:01 pm

Javier Milei (L), President of Argentina shakes hand with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in West Jerusalem on 07 February, 2024 [GPO/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

While most Latin American countries have demonstrated support for Palestine and distanced themselves from the occupation state of Israel during its aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza, Argentina’s President Javier Milei has called for the demolition of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. This, he was reported as saying, is “in order to bring the Messiah and build the third temple.”

Milei was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he opted to go to the apartheid state for his first overseas trip as president in early February. “Just as Rabbi Akiva had hope in the midst of destruction in a prophecy of reconstruction, Israel has also overcome destruction to build a new, free and prosperous society,” said Milei when he arrived in Israel.

He claimed to have long dreamed about travelling to Jerusalem to aid his study of the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish scriptures. He duly went to the Western Wall, surrounded by settlers, rabbis and spiritual guides.

From the very beginning of his presidency in December, Israel viewed Milei as a new ally and the catalyst for a new chapter in relations with Argentina. The Argentina which condemned the Israeli aggression against Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and insisted that the occupation state must avoid escalating violence last year in a very a strongly worded statement, today has a president who calls for the demolition of the sacred mosque.

We should not be surprised. Milei is an enthusiastic ally of the state whose army (the so-called “Defence Forces”) has killed at least 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October, wounded 70,000 more, and destroyed 60 per cent of the enclave’s civilian infrastructure, including one thousand mosques.

This self-styled “true Zionist” describes Israel as “one of the most amazing countries in the world.”

He told the Israeli Foreign Minister that his visit was intended to show “support for the people of Israel” and “the legitimate [sic] self-defence” of the state against “the terrorists [sic] of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas.”

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Some observers point out that this is all part of his strategy to attract the support of Argentina’s Jewish community, one of the largest in the world, and divert attention from the economic and political crises plaguing his country. Others suggest that his threat to Al-Aqsa Mosque is an act of bravado to show Hamas, which said that Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October was a response to Israeli violations at the Noble Sanctuary in occupied Jerusalem, that he is not afraid of the movement.

“I am not Jewish, but I am a fan of Israel, I have a deep admiration,” Milei told La Nación in 2021. “I am a Catholic and every day I kneel in front of a Jew [sic].” Despite being a Catholic, he has a close relationship with Judaism, which he has demonstrated in media statements.

“I am thinking about converting to Judaism and I aspire to become the first Jewish president in Argentine history,” he said during the closing ceremony of his presidential campaign at the Movistar Arena Stadium.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Milei returned to this idea by pointing out: “There is the possibility of converting to Judaism. I could not do it now because compliance with the precepts could conflict with my activity as president, such as when respecting the Shabbat. It’s deeper and more long-term.”

One of his first announcements as president was to say that the Argentine Embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem. This Trump-like character repeated his promise when he visited Israel.

“When the one ordered Moses to break the first tablets of the law, the first word he uttered was Jerusalem, and that was where King David established the capital, therefore we must take the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he explained.

If he does this, he will break with Argentina’s neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Argentina’s position has long been to remain equidistant from both sides, while holding on to respect for human rights, international law and UN resolutions. Given Israel’s total contempt for human rights, international law and UN resolutions, Milei makes it unlikely that Argentina will continue on the neutral path with any degree of credibility.

According to former Argentine deputy Julia Perié, the decision to transfer the embassy reflects Milei’s “recent spiritual inclination that linked him to the ultra-conservative Orthodox community of Judaism and identifies the Palestinian people as the enemy of the Israeli people.”

Perié told me that, “It is important to make it known that the majority of the Argentinian communities, even the Jewish community here in Argentina, disapprove of the development of the massacre of the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

The relatively small but vocal Palestinian community in Argentina has worked tirelessly to develop support for their cause, through human rights organisations and political groups that have an impact across Argentine civil society. They have criticised his calls for Al-Aqsa Mosque to be demolished as well as the proposed embassy move.

Solidarity with Palestinians is fast becoming a regular feature of daily life in Argentina. Many Palestinians and Argentinians activists are raising awareness about what is happening in Palestine on a daily basis, and seek to present a broader, more representative image of the land and people. They do, after all, share many centuries of history, cultural heritage, rich tradition and distinct identity.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.