After winning a decisive victory in May, Paraguay's incoming President Santiago “Santi” Peña will reportedly return the country’s embassy to Jerusalem, after he is sworn in next week.

Peña, 44, previously served as finance minister during the 2013-2018 presidency of Horacio Cartes, who near the end of his presidential term, moved Paraguay’s Israeli embassy from a Tel Aviv suburb to Jerusalem. 

Although Cartes’ successor reversed the decision, Peña will reportedly now move it back, joining four other countries, including the U.S. in the Jewish state’s capital. That’s just one of many reasons why Paraguay, a landlocked country in the heart of South America, matters to Israel and the Jewish people. 

1)      Destination for Jews For Over a Century

At the opening ceremony of Paraguay’s embassy in Jerusalem in 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Paraguay for welcoming European Jews “before the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust - an act of benevolence and mercy that is forever etched in our hearts.”

The first wave of Jews in Paraguay arrived in the late 19th century from France, Switzerland, Italy, and Ottoman-controlled Palestine, thanks to permissive immigration policies. Another wave arrived in the 1920s from Poland and Ukraine.  Paraguay opened its doors due to the War of the Triple Alliance between 1864 and 1870, during which Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay decimated Paraguay's civilian population.

A second wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis arrived in the 1930s and 40s from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. However, for most of them, Paraguay served as a way station – a way to acquire papers to enter neighboring Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

2)      Voted for Israel’s Sovereignty

When the United Nations voted on the Partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947, Jews around the world huddled around their radios to listen to the roll call. By the time Paraguay voted “yes,” becoming the 33rd country to do so, they knew a dream of 2,000 years was about to become a reality – an independent Jewish state.

Paraguay opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949. It has often lent its support to Israel, abstaining from resolutions in the UN General Assembly that criticize Israel for taking unilateral actions in Jerusalem and in the occupied territories.

3)      Embassy in Jerusalem

Under Paraguay’s new president, its Israeli embassy will reportedly have a new address – again.

During a 70th anniversary trip to Israel in April 2018, then-outgoing president Horacio Cartes announced that the Paraguayan embassy would move from the Tel Aviv suburb of Mevasseret Zion to Jerusalem. The following month, Paraguay became the third country after the U.S. and Guatemala to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

However, by September of that year, Cartes’ successor Mario Abdo Benitez, who had not been consulted about the measure, moved the embassy back to Tel Aviv out of concern that it would jeopardize peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Angry about the reversal, Netanyahu closed the Israeli embassy in Asunción. Israel’s envoy to Paraguay works in neighboring Argentina.

Peña vowed to move his country’s Israeli embassy back to Jerusalem immediately, a promise he intends to fulfill next week. 

Welcome news!

With Paraguay's embassy set to return to Jerusalem, over half of the embassies in the city will hail from Latin America.

Muchas gracias to the Paraguayan Deputies who signed the parliamentary letter to President-elect @SantiPenap, encouraging him to move the…

— American Jewish Committee (@AJCGlobal) August 8, 2023


4)      Hub for Hezbollah

The Triple Frontier – an urban region where the borders of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil come together – has become a hotbed for money laundering and other criminal activity for terrorist groups tied to Iran, such as Hezbollah.

In August 2019, Paraguay announced it was designating Hezbollah as an international terrorist organization, enabling the country to take action against the organization and slow its reign of terror across Latin America and around the world. 

In fact, Asunción was the site of the first terrorist attack ever carried out on one of Israel’s embassies. On May 4, 1970, two Palestinian terrorists carried out a shooting at the embassy, killing one embassy secretary and injuring another.

Hezbollah, organized in 1982, is responsible for some of the most heinous attacks on Israeli embassies around the world, including the 1992 bombing of the Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Another attack in 1994 on the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and wounded more than 300 others.

5)      Tiny but Mighty Jewish Community

A country of about seven million people, Paraguay is home to only 1,000 Jews, concentrated in Paraguay’s capital, Asunción. The capital city is home to a local chapter of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a Jewish day school, a Jewish history museum, and a Conservative synagogue. Due to the various waves of immigration, the Jewish community is a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.  

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