Hamas’s surprise assault on Israel sent shockwaves across the world, and these have inevitably been felt in Argentina, home to Latin America’s largest Jewish population. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Argentine Jews live in Israel, mostly in the southern kibbutzim that were attacked at the beginning of the war, and in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. Out of these, 240 were airlifted this week by the Argentine government, which hopes to “repatriate” as many as possible. In Argentina, which is currently in the middle of a hard-fought presidential election, all of the leading candidates immediately condemned the violence in forceful terms. But none has been more assertive in his support for the Jewish state than the frontrunner, Javier Milei, the libertarian economist, former rock musician, soccer goalie, political outsider … and aspiring convert to Judaism.

Milei’s policy agenda—which includes adopting the US dollar, cutting economic ties with Brazil and China (Argentina’s main trading partners), and legalizing the sale of children who would otherwise be put up for adoption—has jolted mainstream pundits, aroused the interest of Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk, and won him the backing of nearly a third of a voting public fed up with severe inflation. But an often overlooked aspect of Milei’s candidacy is his outspoken love of Judaism. In a country that until 1994 required presidents to be Catholic, and where the overwhelming majority belongs to the Roman church, why has Milei made Judaism the spiritual center of his campaign?

Milei says he was first attracted to Judaism by his ex-friend Carlos Maslatón, an Argentine libertarian lawyer who attends ACILBA, a beautiful Modern Orthodox synagogue in the neighborhood of Palermo, on the same street where Jorge Luis Borges once lived. For a few years now, Milei has also attended this shul; he is, he says, in the process of converting to Judaism, promising to finalize his conversion after becoming president. Milei has revealed in interviews that he has a Jewish spiritual guide, an Argentine rabbi who helps him make decisions. He talks about God as “One,” invoking loosely cabbalistic ideas, and posts memes in Hebrew. In an interview with Carlson, he attacked his countryman Pope Francis (calling the pontiff a communist, the worst insult in Milei’s vocabulary), and said that he sleeps well “knowing that there are people at the Kotel”—the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem—“who pray for me.”

As in many countries, there is a long tradition in Argentina linking Judaism with the left. During the Semana Trágica (Tragic Week) of 1919, violent police repression of anarchists, communists, and labor leaders coincided with a pogrom against Jews carried out by a nationalist paramilitary group. More recently, however, most Jewish institutions have drifted to the traditional right represented by Juntos por el Cambio, a party Milei claims to detest. The event that helped trigger this rightward realignment was the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association, a community center in Buenos Aires, which claimed 85 victims. The attack was attributed to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and sponsored by Iran, and politicians in the center-left Justicialist party—founded by Juan Domingo Perón—have been accused of colluding with the Tehran regime to block the investigation of the attack. The mysterious death of the prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2015, just before he was to indict former President and current Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on this charge, has deepened the rift between Argentine Jews and the Peronist left.

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