Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, heads to Israel on his first overseas diplomatic trip


((JEWISH REVIEW)) — Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, has traveled to Israel to fulfill his foreign policy pledges — and his own personal religious aspirations.

Milei, an avowed philosemite who was elected in November, will travel with his rabbi-turned-ambassador and will meet with families of Argentinians held hostage in Gaza.

Milei is the first Latin American president to visit Israel since Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7.

The resulting war in Gaza has fueled widespread anti-Israeli sentiment in Latin America, including in several countries with left-wing leaders. But Milei, who calls himself an “anarcho-capitalist” and who has advanced a slew of right-wing policies since being sworn in, is following through on his vow to realign Argentina’s foreign policy as close to the United States and Israel, rather than to its socialist neighbors.

In a nod to Milei’s crackdown on Argentina’s public spending, he is traveling on a regular commercial flight rather than the presidential airplane. He is traveling with a small group of officials that includes Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish, his longtime advisor whom he has appointed ambassador to Israel; Foreign Minister Diana Mondino; and his sister Karina Milei, who has taken the role of secretary of the presidency.

After his visit to Israel, Milei plans to head to Rome to meet Pope Francis, who is from Argentina and whom he had denounced prior to his election, as well as Italy’s far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni.

According to a schedule provided by his office, Milei will begin his Israel trip with a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He is scheduled to meet with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, his office said. Herzog’s office confirmed the meetings to Israeli media.

Milei has also requested to visit the areas in Israel’s south that were attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. He will visit Kibbutz Nir Oz and meet with the families of the Argentinians who remain hostages in Gaza.

The Bibas family — father Yarden, mother Shiri, and sons Ariel, 4, and Kfir, 1 — were kidnapped from Nir Oz on Oct. 7 and have become symbols of the ongoing hostage crisis. They hold Argentinian citizenship, as do dozens of others who were among the 1,200 Israelis murdered and roughly 250 taken captive  on Oct. 7.

Milei announced the trip, which he had vowed on the campaign trail to make early in his presidency, during a Jan. 26 International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Buenos Aires’ Holocaust museum. There, he said Argentina would take a firm stand against terrorism and antisemitism.

“In the coming weeks, I will be traveling to the Holy Land,” Milei said at the time, in a move that he said would usher in a “new chapter in the brotherhood of our two nations.”

Milei’s personal connection to Judaism figured prominently on the campaign trail. He is Catholic but 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. He has said he wishes to convert to Judaism but does not see Shabbat observance as compatible with running the country as president.

During a visit to New York City in November, shortly after the election, he traveled to the grave of the Lubavitcher rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a pilgrimage site for some Jews who believe there is special significance to prayers said there. He also cited the Hanukkah story and gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a menorah during his inauguration in December.

Milei’s trip is eliciting a divided response among Argentinians. Leftist parties organized a demonstration against the trip in front of the Foreign Ministry on Monday evening, denouncing Milei’s “policy of alignment with Zionism and imperialism, at a time when the Israeli State is carrying out a genocidal action against the [Gaza] Strip.” The parties allege that Argentina’s move to declare Hamas a terrorist organization sets the stage for repression of political dissidents.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups in the country — home to the seventh-largest Jewish population in the world, about 175,000 people — are praising Milei for making the trip against political headwinds.

“This historic trip, at this momentous moment, is a brave show of support for Israel,” the Argentina Zionist Organization wrote on X, formerly Twitter. The group added, “It is satisfying for those of us who value democracy that our country is once again aligned with those countries that represent its values.”