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Israel matters to the Latino community

Alma Hernandez (R) and Consuelo Hernandez (L) in Israel. (Courtesy of Alma Hernandez)

Those of you who know me know that two of my great passions are the tremendous Latino community in the United States and the Jewish People and their only homeland and refuge, the country of Israel. As the first Mexican-American Jewish woman elected to U.S. office, I grew up with both of these rich communities; I know our songs and our stories, where we come from, and where we hope we’re going.

It’s why I led a state legislator trip to Israel earlier this year to support our ally in the Middle East after the horrific attacks of October 7, which killed over 1,200 innocent people in the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. It’s also why I believe it’s so important that the Hispanic community be able to get reliable information about the actual pathways and threats to peace in the Middle East.

You’ve probably heard of Israel War Room, the trailblazing Israel-friendly social media account for news, reactions, opinions, and analysis from the fast-paced Middle East. Having Jewish and Mexican roots, I’ve often wished this unique resource was available to the native Spanish speakers among my friends and family.

After all, research shows that Israel and the Middle East are topics of profound interest to Hispanic Americans and the broader Spanish-speaking world. With its new Spanish-language channel, Centro Mando Israel is poised to meet this need and ensure that my Spanish-speaking constituents, friends, and family have a reliable source of information in real-time.

Let’s start with the fact that interest in news and opinions from Israel among the Hispanic community is robust and growing. In a globalized world, public interest in a site as profoundly resonant as the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, which is also home to the third-holiest site in Islam, is not limited by language. Spanish is not only the second-most spoken language in the world but also the second language of the United States, natively used by a highly sophisticated consumer base with a deep interest in global issues.

The truth is that there is a deep and ancient connection between speakers of Hebrew and Spanish, and it goes both ways. For hundreds of years, Spain was home to the most enlightened and influential Jewish community in the world, producing statesmen like Hasdai ibn Shaprut, poets like Judah haLevi, and brilliant philosophers like Maimonides.

The descendants of this community are called Sephardic, from the Hebrew word for Spain, and they are one of the most important Jewish ancestry groups in modern Israel. Many continue to speak a Spanish-Hebrew language called Ladino to this day in places where they found refuge after the expulsion from Spain, as diverse as Israel, Turkey, Greece, the Netherlands, Italy, and Morocco.

Some believe that Jews arrived in the New World with Columbus, but the Inquisition throughout the Spanish Empire meant that Jews living in places like Mexico had to keep their faith a secret. Up to 25% of American Hispanics are thought to be of crypto-Jewish origin, with ancestors who disguised their identity during the Spanish Inquisition.

In addition, about 19% of U.S. Hispanics are evangelical Christians with deep ties to the Israel of the Bible, also a source of deep meaning to the Catholic faithful who make up the majority of our community. Throughout the Spanish-speaking world, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there has been a profound embrace of this ancient Jewish heritage, which in Spain for a period included the opportunity for expulsos – Jews expelled from Spain – to reclaim their Spanish citizenship.

According to Brandeis University, there are about 750,000 Latin American Jews, about half of whom live in the United States. Many Sephardic Jews, as well as Jews from elsewhere in the Diaspora, immigrated to the young nations of Latin America in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, with notable communities thriving today in cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Panama City.

Today, fifteen Argentineans captured and effectively enslaved by Hamas terrorists on October 7 are currently languishing in the terror tunnels beneath Gaza. The eyes of many in the Spanish-speaking world are glued to the fate of these innocents, while the United Nations has said the hostages are undergoing torture and sexual assault.

Yet studies show that many Hispanic Americans do not yet have firm views about the situation in Israel and its often dangerous neighborhood, events in the Middle East having had a certain distance in the less globalized world of yesteryear. Today, Iran’s hostile state-controlled HispanTV network is now spreading a steady diet of anti-Israel propaganda to Spanish-language audiences and has been noted for its antisemitic incitement.

These vile propagandists have a tough sell ahead of them because the Hispanic community I know is united by common sense, good judgment, and love for all peoples. However, the insidious nature of propaganda should not be doubted. With Hispanic Americans more likely to get news from social media, partly because our community skews young, we have been particularly targeted for disinformation.

Hispanic Americans intuitively understand that the fate of Jews and Spanish speakers is intimately linked. Today, anti-Israel activists are trying to cancel the Jewish right to exist, both as a sovereign people by genocidally destroying the State of Israel and in the United States by taking away the Jewish people’s right to self-identify, instead falsely labeling all of us, even Jews of color like me, as “white Europeans.”

The truth is that Jewish people are a distinct community with indigenous origins in the Middle East and a long and complex history, intensely contributing to and learning from many lands and cultures – including the Spanish-speaking world. Hispanic identity also often exists at the borderlines in America, and we reject divisive and cruel attempts to take away an indigenous people’s right to exist and self-identify.

As a Jewish woman and a Latina who has done what I can to blaze trails, it is more important to me than ever in these trying times that our historically linked communities communicate and understand each other. Thankfully, there is finally a trusted social media resource to help Spanish speakers engage with this complex and impactful issue: Centro Mando Israel, which is genuinely meeting the moment by providing quick updates and fresh takes to the growing Spanish-language social media user base.

About the Author
The first Mexican-American Jewish person ever elected to public office in the United States, and daughter of an immigrant, Democratic state legislator Rep. Alma Hernandez represents Arizona’s 3rd House District in Tucson. Hernandez is known as an outspoken advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship and a passionate supporter of Holocaust education in schools.
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