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Uruguay’s New President Has Close Jewish Ties

Uruguay elected a president who has twice traveled to Israel and who has an open dialogue with the country’s Jewish community.

The ruling leftist coalition candidate, Tabare Vazquez, was confirmed as president Monday with 53.6 percent of the vote in the second round of national elections, beating rightist Luis Lacallae Pou who garnered 41.1 percent of the vote.

Vazquez will be president of the South American country for the second time. During his first administration, 2005 to 2010, he made an official three-day visit as a guest of then-President Shimon Peres, during which he visited the Weizmann Institute, Schneider Children’s Hospital and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Vazquez, 74, is an oncologist who also traveled to Israel in 1982, representing Uruguay in an international seminar about cancer research.

Current Uruguayan President Jose Alberto Mujica said during Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza over the summer that Israel was committing “genocide” against the Palestinians. Vazquez, who is from the same party, when asked if he agreed with Mujica said that Israel “was not committing genocide.”

In Uruguay, home to nearly 20,000 Jews, anti-Semitic incidents rose during the recent conflict in Gaza, spurred on by charges by Foreign Minister Luis Almagro and Mujica that Israel was committing “genocide” and that “Gaza is a big concentration camp.”

In 1947, Uruguay voted in the United Nations in favor of the declaration of a Jewish state in Israel. The other two countries in the South American cone, Argentina and Chile, abstained.

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