(January 29, 2018 / JNS) In the wake of Guatemala’s decision to relocate its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem following President Donald Trump’s historic announcement of the same policy decision in early December, a large delegation of Jewish and Christian leaders traveled to Guatemala last week to thank President Jimmy Morales for the move and offer support for the Central American nation.
During their visit to Guatemala, the delegates convened for a dinner and private meeting with Morales. Also attending the dinner were other Guatemalan officials such as Vice President Jafeth Cabrera, Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel and Ambassador to the U.S. Manuel Espina, as well as Israeli Ambassador to Guatemala Matanya Cohen, members of the local Jewish community and Christian leaders.
According to the Latino Coalition for Israel (LCI), which organized a visiting group of more than 20 Christian leaders—including former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Center—that joined a broader delegation of 70 Christian and Jewish leaders in Guatemala, the purpose of the mission was to “personally express their gratitude and support for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and for his decision to move Guatemala’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”
“Christian and Jewish leaders gathered in Guatemala, united as one, to proudly applaud President Morales’s decision to move Guatemala’s Embassy from Tel Aviv to its rightful place in Jerusalem, a city that has represented the importance of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years,” said Pastor Mario Bramnick, president of LCI.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who joined the delegation to Guatemala, told JNS that the visit was an important way to “show [the Guatemalans] that we are there for them and that we support them.”
“It is a courageous act on their part and we don’t take them or it for granted,” he said.
Hoenlein said Morales gave a “stirring and appreciative speech” about their visit, in which the Guatemalan leader conveyed that moving the embassy was “deeply personal” for him.
“We felt this was an important way to show the appreciation of the American Jewish community and we hope this will set a pattern for additional countries,” stated Hoenlein.
Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in North America, told JNS that Morales “took a very courageous step” in his decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital, move the embassy there and vote against a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Trump’s decision.
“Simply put, President Morales stood up for what is right, despite criticism from many corners,” Ehrenberg said, adding that Morales’s decision is “another milestone” in Guatemala’s friendship with Israel and the U.S.
A devout evangelical Christian, Morales has prioritized reaching out to the country’s small Jewish community—about 900 Jews as of 2012, according to Jewish Virtual Library—as well as strengthening ties to Israel. Shortly after taking office in January 2016, Morales traveled to the country’s main synagogue in Guatemala City, where he announced his intention to visit Israel, which he did later in 2016.
“I believe he [made the decision to move the embassy] because he is a believing Christian and it is very much in his belief structure. Guatemala was the second country to recognize Israel in 1947, and the current leadership really believes that this is the way to protect Jerusalem,” Hoenlein said.
Despite being a small and largely impoverished Central American country, Guatemala has long represented an important partner for Israel. In 1947, as Israel struggled to gain international support for the U.N. Partition Plan for British Palestine, Guatemala became one of the first countries to voice support for the Jewish state’s creation.
Ehrenberg said that Guatemala “has been a true friend of Israel from the outset—it supported Israel in 1946 as a member of UNSCOP (U.N. Special Committee on Palestine), when the Guatemalan ambassador to the U.N., Jorge Garcia Granados, recommended the formation of the state of Israel, even before the declaration in 1948.”
In 1956, Guatemala became one of the first Latin American countries to open an embassy in Jerusalem, but later relocated the mission in 1978 to the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya.
Today, as Israel is attempting to build non-traditional allies around the world, Guatemala has expressed an interest in bolstering agriculture, science, technology and security ties with the Israelis.
Hoenlein said that the visiting Jewish and Christian leaders “are committed to helping with the followup and getting the message to Washington and encouraging businesspeople to look at Guatemala.”
Recruiting more Latino support for Jerusalem
In addition to showing support for Guatemala, a delegation of Christian leaders from LCI also visited Honduras, where they thanked President Juan Orlando Hernandez for his country’s vote against the recent U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Trump’s Jerusalem moves, according to LCI’s Bramnick.
“We thanked President Hernandez of Honduras and his vote in the U.N. and encouraged him to move the embassy. He invited us to bring a Jewish-Christian delegation to Honduras to further discuss the issue,” said Bramnick.
Reports have suggested that Honduras, which also has close ties with Israel and borders Guatemala, is also considering moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
“Both Guatemala and Honduras are very strong Christian nations,” Bramnick told JNS, noting that he is launching an initiative called the Latin American Jerusalem Task Force to encourage Honduras as well as other countries in the region such as Costa Rica and Chile to also consider embassy moves.
“The church is very much supportive of this move and very active and is a positive influence on the leadership,” he said. “Both presidents are Christians and understand personally the religious significance as well as the geopolitical considerations of a move. Thirdly, these two countries are very pro-conservative values, pro-President Trump and pro-Israel in nature.”
“These two nations in particular,” Bramnick added, “understand the importance of such a move and have close ties with Israel and the U.S.”
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