Diplomats urge Israel not to close embassy in El Salvador

June 30, 2016  

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — A group of Israeli lawmakers and Latin American diplomats launched an initiative to prevent the closure of the Israeli embassy in San Salvador.

“I believe that Israel, instead of getting distant from Latin America, should get much closer and water the relationship as a plant,” said El Salvador Ambassador to Israel Werner Matias Romero, who attended Wednesday’s Knesset meeting along with other counterparts. The meeting was reported by the La Prensa Grafica newspaper.

The closure was announced by the Israeli Foreign Ministry in January for budgetary reasons. The Salvadoran government called it a “deeply unfortunate” decision and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider.

Romero noted El Salvador’s longtime friendship with Israel, pointing out that his country voted in favor of the 1947 United Nations partition plan. He added that Salvadoran diplomat Jose Castellanos was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial and museum for saving 40,000 Jews during the Holocaust. In addition, El Salvador – like its neighbor Costa Rica – kept its embassy in Jerusalem for decades.

Israel’s aspirations to become an observer of the Central American Integration System organization, which is headquartered in El Salvador, may be jeopardized with the embassy closure, added the diplomat.

“The natural place to have an embassy in Central America is there,” added Romero, who lamented that the decision to close the office in El Salvador remains untouched while the closure of the embassy in Belarus was reversed in March.

Labor Party lawmaker Nachman Shai said that “closing an embassy is like cutting the branch we sit on” and the decision “sends a message that is very wrong.” Nava Boker, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said she will send a formal written request to reverse the decision.

Haim Jelin, a lawmaker for the centrist Yesh Atid party who presided over the meeting, added that “every time an embassy is closed, the voice of the Jewish people is a little bit muted in Latin America.”

“I’m optimistic, I hope the [closure] decision will not be taken, but if it is they will realize that it was a mistake,” said Romero, who will leave his position soon.

El Salvador is home to about 150 Jews in a population of 6.3 million.

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