Don’t Forget Paraguay Is Also Moving Its Israeli Embassy
Flipping through the evening news earlier this week, a small article caught my eye and tears immediately began streaming down my face. Having faced many trials and tribulations over the past few years, this moment brought with it a wave of triumph for Zionism and for the enormous love of Israel that continues to burn inside me.
A little over five years ago, I received a call from a prominent US Jewish leader. As a close friend and mentor, the phone call was not out of the ordinary, but the topic was definitely unusual.
After the personal and political rundown, he asked me if I wanted to take a trip to Paraguay. Paraguay? My only previous Paraguay references were hearing of the Nazi settlement formed there at the turn of the 20th century and where the fake winner of the golden ticket was from in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory!
I responded by saying that there were many destinations on my bucket list, but Paraguay was most definitely not one of them. He laughed and said there was an opportunity to help Israel, to which my ears perked up and I listened intently.
Years ago, a young businessman from Paraguay — right across the Brazilian border — had run into debt and needed help to keep his company alive. He had no one to turn to and the banks wouldn’t help. He turned to his friends, the Brazilian family of this US Jewish leader. Without a moment’s hesitation they helped their friend. This Jewish family saved the business and earned the eternal gratitude and friendship of a young Horacio Cartes.
“Horacio Cartes, now an important businessman, is considering a run for the presidency of Paraguay and I believe that a visit by a former senior Israeli official would help further instill a warm place in Horacio’s heart for the State of Israel,” said my friend.
The idea immediately resonated with me, as South America presented a unique opportunity for Israel to expand its economic and diplomatic friendship beyond Europe and the United States. The opportunity to meet a potential future president, while actively lobbying for the Jewish state, made the trip a must.
I immediately agreed, and in coordination with my friend and his Brazilian brother, we set a date for the long 25-hour flight from Israel. My next call was to my friend and colleague Yechiel Leiter, another former chief of staff for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking him to join me for this unexpected adventure. Not a month later we were on our way — my first visit to South America.
We were met in the capital city of Asuncion (or as they pronounced it Asun-ZION) by Horacio and his sister and confidante Sarah. They greeted us with great excitement, great intrigue, and great respect for all that Israel has accomplished.
The next three days were spent with Horacio touring the country, meeting his advisers, and participating in deep discussion on local and global politics. Horacio knew our need for kosher food. He purchased a brand new grill and imported kosher meat from Brazil.
During the last few hours of our visit, Horacio asked us what we thought of his campaign and his staff. Although both Yechiel and I are American by birth, our Israeli bluntness prevailed. We told Horacio that his campaign left much to be desired. We went on to share some ideas and specifically the concept of a 100-day plan.
Horacio took it all in. Suddenly becoming serious, he turned to us and said, “When can you guys start?” Yechiel and I looked at each other not knowing how to respond. Paraguay was literally on the other side of the world, but the opportunity for Israel to have a real friend in office was immense. We began working with Horacio a few weeks later. Horacio won his party nomination and a few months later the national elections, all this with his Israeli friends by his side.
The relationship did not end there, and we continued to advise the new president-elect in the transition months before officially taking office. Shortly after the inauguration, while at a meeting in the presidential palace, my phone rang with a familiar Jerusalem phone number showing on the screen. The voice on the other end was Netanyahu’s. The chief of staff position had opened up and he asked me to return to the office I had left four years earlier.
The rest of my personal story is history, but the story of Paraguay and Israel was just beginning. Shortly after President Cartes took office, Paraguay decided to open an embassy in Israel and, not long after that, Israel followed suit by opening an embassy in Asuncion.
One year later, Cartes became the first Paraguayan president to visit the State of Israel.
The years ahead had Israel facing many challenges in international forums. Time and again, in bodies like the South American Trade Bloc Mercosur and the UN, Cartes and Paraguay heeded the call and stood with Israel.
Therefore, when reading the news of Cartes moving Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem, it was no real surprise. With the US embassy moving to Jerusalem and the subsequent call by the Israeli government for other countries to follow, Paraguay led by Cartes would surely be at the front of the line.
To quote US president Harry S. Truman, another great president who took the lead in recognizing the nascent state of Israel, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
As Paraguay announces its move to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people, I am humbled to have played a small role in such a historic relationship. My US friend and his brother played the role of Truman’s friend Eddie Jacobson in this story of Paraguay, and deserve our recognition and acknowledgment. But it is to the leadership of President Horacio Cartes and his decision to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem that we owe a debt of gratitude.
Horacio Cartes and his place in the annals of the history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel should be acknowledged.
Ari Harow served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is now an international political consultant. A version of this article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.