Argentina’s Philo-Semite-in-Chief, and Would-Be Convert

December 1, 2023 | Ben Cohen
About the author: Ben Cohen, a New York-based writer, has contributed essays on anti-Semitism and related issues to Mosaic and other publications.

On Monday, the Argentine president-elect Javier Milei made a surprise trip to New York City to visit the grave of the late Lubavitcher rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of whom he is an admirer. This is just one of many surprising things about Milei, from his prominent sideburns, to his flamboyant speeches, to his commitment to economic liberalism. Ben Cohen explains the Argentinian politician’s Jewish fascinations:

A populist maverick who defines himself as an “anarcho-capitalist” and has been dubbed El Loco (“The Crazy One”) by critics, Milei’s love of Judaism and strong support for Israel were central features of his campaign, demonstrated by the frequent appearance of Israeli flags at his campaign rallies. The new Argentine leader studies Torah with Rabbi Shimon Wahnish, who is based in Buenos Aires, and has openly talked on several occasions about converting to Judaism—adding the caveat that doing so would be impossible if he were elected president, as the demands of the office would be incompatible with observing core Jewish practices like Shabbat, when observant Jews do not use telephones and electronic devices.

Among the first individuals to meet with Milei following his triumph over his left-wing rival Sergio Massa—garnering 56 percent of the votes against 44 percent in the second round of the election—were the Israeli ambassador in Buenos Aires, Eyal Sela, along with a delegation from the AMIA Jewish Center in the Argentine capital.

Milei has also promised to move the Argentinian embassy to Jerusalem, and there is much hope that he will abandon the pro-Iranian policies of his predecessor Alberto Fernández. Fernández helped protect his vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—who served as the country’s president from 2007 to 2015—from scrutiny over her role in obstructing the investigation into the Iranian bombing of the AMIA building in 1994.

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