In recent days, leaders of the Jewish community in Argentina have been busy figuring out how to save money during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Argentina, so that the donations they collect during the year can be used for the benefit of the community, rather than to pay for the visit. Sources inform "Globes" that according to internal discussions between the Jewish community leaders, the Jewish community leaders have undertaken to pay $100,000 to defray the large cost of the visit.
The owner of the Alvear Hotel in Buenos Aires, will host the prime minister and his entourage. Several dozen Israeli and local businessmen taking part in the visit will attend the events aimed at establishing links between the Israeli government and the government of Argentinean President Mauricio Macri. The Alvear Hotel, one of the oldest and most luxurious in the city, won renown in the past for hosting statesmen such as former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, French President Jacques Chirac, and South African President Nelson Mandela, as well as actors Sophia Loren and Al Pacino.
The Jewish community leaders asked the owner of the Alvear Hotel, Jewish real estate tycoon and businessman David Sutton, for a discount on Netanyahu's stay in the hotel. Sutton, a haredi Jew whose antecedents are in the Jewish community of Aleppo, Syria, is one of the largest contributors to ultra-Orthodox institutions in Israel, and is regarded as one of the wealthiest people in Argentina.
Talking about how Netanyahu's visit came about, Alberto Indij, VP of the Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), which represents the Argentinean Jewish community, said, "It began when Macri was mayor of Buenos Aires, and visited Israel before he was elected. He met with Netanyahu, and personally invited him to visit Argentina. When Macri was elected president, the invitation became official."
200,000 Jews live in Argentina. They love Israel, and maintain warm ties with the government here. Many in the community speak Hebrew, and the rate of immigration to Israel is among the highest in the Diaspora.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in response, "The visit to Latin America is a working visit. Israel is paying the expenses."
The Prime Minister's Office added that it was unaware of financing by the Jewish community, and no one had asked them about it. Local fundraising to pay for the prime minister's visit makes people wonder why the state budget is not funding the entire trip. Even if it is a local initiative, it is proper for Israel to be the financial sponsor of the events surrounding the visit.
Several months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel. Not only was the entire visit paid for by the Indian government, but Modi brought with him at public expense a group of a dozen Indian singers. They appeared on a giant stage at a special event for Indians living in Israel. Thousands of foreigners from India working in Israel as cleaners, carers, and medical auxiliaries and Jewish immigrants from India and their descendants attended the event.
In the case of the Israeli government, it appears that things work in the opposite way. The Jewish community in Argentina is excited about the upcoming visit, and took upon itself to pay for part of the cost. Agustin Zbar, president of Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), confirmed the report to "Globes" in a telephone call.
"It's a big honor. The prime minister comes on a visit described as private, not in the framework of an agreement between the countries, so for us, this is a historic moment - the first visit by a serving prime minister since Israel was established."
According to Zbar, community members expect Netanyahu to come to the AMIA building and pay his respects to the dozens of victims of the terrorist attacks against the Israeli embassy and the AMIA building 25 and 23 years ago, respectively.
Zbar added, "The visit is also taking place thanks to the good chemistry between President Mauricio Macri and Netanyahu, and also because Argentina is undergoing a process of becoming open to the world in business. Netanyahu is adding 30 Israeli and 50 Argentinian top-level businessmen to this trip.
"Globes": What do you mean by a "private visit"?
Zbar: "It's not completely clear to me, but that's what the Israeli embassy called it."
Is AMIA funding the prime minister's stay in Buenos Aires?
"Yes. Not all of his stay, but we, the Jewish community, are covering a great deal of the prime minister's expenses, out of a feeling of solidarity."
What expenses, exactly?
"I'm not supposed to say."
Not everyone in the community agrees that Netanyahu's visit is a private one. People familiar with the matter said that it was embarrassing for the prime minister of Israel to rely on funding from members of the Jewish community when the money could be used for rabbinical institutions, yeshivas (Jewish seminaries), treatment for poor members of the community, and local Jewish social objectives.
DAIA VP and former AMIA president Luis Grynwald said that the prime minister's visit had been described as "an official visit for all intents and purposes," not a private visit. According to him, the level of security during Netanyahu's visit will be the same as for President Obama's March 2016 visit to Argentina.
Extremely deadly terrorist attacks have occurred against Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires, in which dozens of people were killed, including unrelated bystanders and passersby. Four Israeli diplomats were killed in these attacks. These attacks were in revenge for the killing of Hezbollah leader Abbas al Moussawi, but Argentina has never brought the perpetrators to justice. For many years, Argentina was regarded as a dangerous and questionable location for Jews and Israelis, and the security costs for the current visit will surely be enormous.
Grynwald says that Sutton "does not need AMIA to pay for the prime minister, and it's unreasonable for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs to allow it, adding, however, "I don't have all the information, and this is possible."
The local financial press, such as "Ambito Financiero," is stressing improved ties with Israel as a significant reflection of diplomatic turnaround since Macri came to power. In a report published early this week, the newspaper stated, "Netanyahu's visit is the best indication of the turnaround in national diplomacy that Macri is leading."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on September 4, 2017
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