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Argentina’s Senate Nears Confirmation of President Milei’s Rabbi as Ambassador to Israel

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Argentina’s Senate Nears Confirmation of President Milei’s Rabbi as Ambassador to Israel

Edited by: Fern Sidman

In a move that has stirred both controversy and intrigue, Argentina’s Senate stands on the cusp of confirming President Javier Milei’s unconventional choice for ambassador to Israel: his personal rabbi, Shimon Axel Wahnish, as was reported on Tuesday on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency web site.  The nomination of Wahnish, a figure intimately connected to Milei’s political ascent, underscores the unorthodox dynamics at play within Milei’s administration and the broader political landscape of Argentina.

At 42 years old, Wahnish has been a steadfast companion to Milei, particularly during the latter’s rapid rise within the political sphere as a self-proclaimed “Catholic anarcho-capitalist,” the JTA report indicated. Wahnish’s influence on Milei’s worldview, particularly in fostering a newfound philosemitism, has been pivotal in shaping Milei’s candidacy and initial months in office as president.

Should Wahnish’s confirmation proceed as anticipated, he and his family—comprising his wife and six children—will embark on a significant transition from Buenos Aires to Israel. However, the precise location of their relocation remains uncertain. The JTA report said that while Argentina’s embassy currently resides in Herzliya, Milei has publicly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, a move laden with symbolic significance given the city’s contested status as Israel’s capital.

Despite Milei’s determination to assert Argentina’s support for Israel through this relocation, Wahnish’s confirmation process has encountered hurdles and pushback, primarily revolving around concerns regarding Milei’s embassy relocation initiative, according to the information provided in the JTA report. A contentious hearing held last month further exacerbated tensions, with manifestations of anti-Semitism levied against prominent Argentinian Jews.

In a rare interview with the Jerusalem Post, Wahnish offered insight into the significance of Milei’s inaugural trip to Israel, emphasizing the importance of showcasing the humanity of political leaders. “People used to think that a president is above other people, not human. We want to show that everyone has emotions and still grows spiritually and to be a better person,” Wahnish remarked, the JTA report said.

Wahnish’s reticence to engage with the media, including declining an interview with the JTA, reflects his desire to maintain a modest presence amidst the whirlwind of political scrutiny. However, his impact on Argentina’s foreign policy, particularly regarding Israel, is palpable. Milei’s alignment with Israel represents a departure from his leftist predecessor’s stance, signaling a newfound commitment to fostering diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, as was explained in the JTA report.

 

For Wahnish, the transition to Israel holds personal significance, marking an important chapter in his life following a family crisis. According to Mishpacha, Wahnish’s wife and youngest daughter survived a traumatic birth around the time he forged his bond with Milei—an experience that imbued his journey with profound meaning and resilience.

As Wahnish prepares to depart for Israel, the ACILBA community grapples with mixed emotions. Diana Serfaty, ACILBA’s president, articulated a sentiment of pride tinged with sadness, acknowledging Wahnish’s integral role within the community. “While it won’t be easy to say goodbye to his daily presence, we also know that it will be a gradual process and that he will remain in contact with the community as a guide and mentor to his eventual replacement,” Serfaty remarked, according to the JTA report.

In bidding farewell to Wahnish, the ACILBA community acknowledged his indelible contributions and looks toward the future with optimism, knowing that his legacy of empathy, entrepreneurship, and proactivity will endure.

During the Senate hearing in Buenos Aires, Lucia Corpacci, a lawmaker, delivered a pointed admonishment to Wahnish, cautioning him against prioritizing Israel’s interests over Argentina’s. As per the JTA report, Corpacci’s remarks resonated with echoes of dual-loyalty allegations that have historically plagued Jewish communities worldwide, underscoring the sensitivity of the issue within Argentina’s political discourse.

In response to Corpacci’s remarks, Argentina’s Jewish political umbrella organization, DAIA, issued a statement vehemently denouncing her comments as prejudiced and reaffirming the Argentine-Jewish community’s commitment to their dual identity.

The controversy surrounding Wahnish’s nomination has not gone unnoticed by Argentina’s Jewish community, with vocal expressions of concern and condemnation emerging from various quarters. Noted in the report on the JTA web site was that another lawmaker, Sabrina Ajmechet, took to Twitter to question why Jewish Argentines should feel compelled to reaffirm their Argentine identity, highlighting the underlying tensions surrounding questions of loyalty and belonging.

At the forefront of Wahnish’s nomination lies the contentious issue of Argentina’s planned relocation of its embassy from Herzliya to Jerusalem—a move that has sparked debates both domestically and internationally. The JTA report pointed out that concerns have been raised regarding the potential ramifications of this decision on Argentina’s sovereignty claims over the Falkland Islands, a territory subject to competing claims between Argentina and Britain.

Senator Martin Lousteau, among others, voiced apprehensions about the embassy move and its implications for Argentina’s territorial claims. However, Wahnish sought to allay these concerns, assuring Lousteau that the embassy relocation would not infringe upon Argentina’s stance on the Falklands, according to the JTA report. Foreign Minister Diana Mondino reportedly played a pivotal role in securing Lousteau’s endorsement of Wahnish’s nomination, emphasizing the government’s commitment to safeguarding Argentina’s territorial integrity.

 

With Lousteau’s approval secured, Wahnish is now on the brink of making history as the first rabbi to serve as Argentina’s ambassador to Israel—a milestone hailed by Israel’s foreign ministry as a testament to the deepening bonds between the two nations. The information contained in the JTA report suggested that his appointment comes at a crucial juncture, following the vacancy left by the previous ambassador’s removal in the wake of a corruption conviction in early 2022.

Wahnish’s journey to diplomatic prominence has been characterized by unexpected twists and turns. Raised in Buenos Aires, he initially diverged from Orthodox traditions but later embraced them fervently during his formative years, as was detailed in the JTA report. After pursuing religious studies in Israel, Wahnish returned to Argentina and obtained a degree in education, laying the foundation for his multifaceted career path.

As Wahnish assumes his new role, he faces the daunting task of nurturing and sustaining the burgeoning rapport between Argentina and Israel. With Argentina home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, Wahnish’s appointment holds significant symbolic weight, underscoring the shared history and cultural ties that bind the two nations.

Wahnish’s diverse experiences encompass a spectrum of initiatives aimed at strengthening Jewish communities both within Argentina and abroad, underscoring his multifaceted contributions to religious and cultural dialogue.

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