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August 5, 2013 9:08 am

Panama and Israel: An Unlikely Friendship

avatar by Rachel Wolf

The flag of Panama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Every country has at least one ally, if not more. And while at times it seems as though Israel’s only ally is the United States, there is another Western country that has held out its hand to Israel. It may seem, to the untrained eye, that Panama has no stake in Israel’s well being. But in reality, Panama has always had a special relationship with Israel.

Panama has stood by Israel from the beginning: Panama was one of the many countries to vote for UN Resolution 181, which created the State of Israel. Since then, Panama has consistently voted with Israel, including voting against Palestinian Statehood on November 29, 2012. Only nine countries, including Israel and the United States, voted against UN Resolution 67/19. Some, such as Max Fisher did, have speculated that the vote was more for the United States, because of  conomic ties. However, Panama has more reasons than this to support  Israel.

Panama has, unfortunately, experienced terror from Hezbollah, just as Israel has. According to Tracy Wilkinson’s 1994 Los Angeles Times article, “The day after Buenos Aires’ seven-story Jewish community center was reduced to rubble on July 18, a suicide bomber said to be Lebanese and unable to speak Spanish or English boarded a commuter flight in Colon, Panama, near the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. When he detonated the bomb, all 21 people aboard were killed, including 12 Jewish and Israeli businessmen, and three U.S. citizens.” This attack not only devastated Panama, but led to even stronger ties between Israel and Panama.

Early in his term, Panama’s President, Ricardo Martinelli, showed both his own and Panama’s loyalty to Israel. In her 2010 articleGreer Fay Cashman explored the relationship between Panama and Israel. According to Cashman, “Panama will always stand with Israel, in appreciation of ‘its guardianship of the capital of the world – Jerusalem,’ Martinelli told (Israel’s President) Peres at Beit Hanassi.” This recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, displays Martinelli’s feelings toward the state. Furthermore, Cashman’s article reveals that, “…three of the ministers in Martinelli’s cabinet are Jewish, as are many senior government officials.”

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Panama’s Jewish community has also evolved and grown. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “After the construction of the Panama Canal, the census of 1911 reported 505 Jews in Panama.” As of 2010, the number was closer to “about 8,000,” according to Cashman. The future of Panama’s Jews and their relationship with both Panama and Israel seems to be very bright.

Rachel Wolf is an intern at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). This piece was originally published in the CAMERA on Campus Blog In Focus. She is a rising sophomore at American University in  and currently starting a CAMERA Campus Activist Project (CCAP) group on her own campus.

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