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September 14, 2017 5:18 pm

Strengthened Ties With Israel ‘Necessary and Welcome,’ Says Colombian Congressman as Netanyahu Continues Latin American Tour

avatar by Ben Cohen

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arriving in Mexico City on Thursday. Photo: GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Mexico City on Thursday, on the third leg of a Latin American tour hailed by one Colombian legislator as a decisive step against Iran’s long-standing influence in the region.

“The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking to Israel’s allies in Latin America is an important step when you take into account the growing presence of Iranian officials and forces in Venezuela,” Colombian Congressman Federico Hoyos told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

“The strengthening of ties with the Israeli government and its people are necessary and welcome,” said Hoyos, who represents the centrist Centro Democrático party in his country’s House of Representatives.

Netanyahu traveled to Mexico following a visit to Colombia, where he met with President Juan Manuel Santos. While in Mexico, he will meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as the leaders of the country’s 50,000-strong Jewish community.

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The Mexico visit comes eight months after the Israeli leader triggered the ire of many Mexicans — and not least the Jewish community — for his public support on Twitter of US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the American border with Mexico. Netanyahu has not commented on the issue since.

However, as one Mexican foreign affairs expert pointed out on Thursday, Netanyahu’s Latin American trip has partly been dogged by another social media scandal, this time involving his eldest son Yair’s use of antisemitic memes in social media posts denouncing Jewish progressives.

“There has been the controversy of Yair Netanyahu’s use of unfortunate imagery to express views that many find disturbing,” Agustin Barrios Gomez — a former member of the Mexican Parliament and now a board member of Mexico’s Council on Foreign Relations — told The Algemeiner. “This has partially overshadowed a generally very positive visit to Argentina, Colombia, and now Mexico.”

Gomez emphasized the benefits of Netanyahu’s visit to commercial relations between Mexico and Israel. “Since our 2000 free trade agreement, we have tripled trade and have increased technology and education cooperation dramatically,” he said.

“There are any number of opportunities that our countries are working closely on, including not only technology in general, but aerospace in particular,” Gomez said. “We are creating new ties between our flag carrier, Aeromexico, and El Al, as well as a direct air cargo route.”

Hoyos said that Netanyahu’s visit to  Colombia was similarly important in terms of economic ties. “We need stronger links with Israel especially on the transfer of knowledge and technology, and this might be achieved through the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and Israel,” Hoyos said. “I wish more Israeli investment would come to Colombia, to our rural areas and cities — Israel is very much welcome in our country.”

Both Hoyos and Gomez stressed the importance of local Jewish communities boosting ties with Israel. “Our Mexicans of Jewish descent have an enormous positive influence on our country: one of the aspects of this is in making sure that Mexico and Israel maintain strong relations,” Gomez said, going on to praise Mexico’s Jewish representative body for working with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) “to create regional, North America-wide cooperation with Israel.”

Given Iran’s sway over Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, as well as its close relations with countries including Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile, counterterrorism has been a major talking point during Netanyahu’s ongoing trip. “In a globalized world, it’s of the utmost importance to fight terrorism and crime together,” Hoyos said. “Israel is a benchmark in this sense, and there is much we can learn and receive help from them.”

Gomez stressed that because Mexico has “the most legally crossed border in the world, our cooperation with the US is on every level.”

“Having said that, we should always be on the lookout for any group that seeks to undermine North American security,” he said — a point amplified by Leopoldo Martínez, the Latin America director for the Washington, DC-based Israel Allies Foundation.

“The threat of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups exporting terrorism into USA through the Mexican border is very relevant for Israel, as we share the common goal of stopping terrorism globally,” Martinez said.

In terms of the overall significance of Netanyahu’s Latin America visit, Gomez said the very fact it happened was an achievement.

“This is the very first visit by an Israeli prime minister in our 65 years of diplomatic relations,” he said. “In itself, that is a big deal.”

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