Explaining and Predicting: The Israel-Hamas War’s Impact in Latin America

This Explainer addresses how the conflict has affected Jewish and Palestinian diasporas, how governments have reacted, and what are the geopolitical ramifications.


Source: AFP.

This Saturday, as we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the shadow of the Israel-Hamas war looms large. Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7, 2023, the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, and the effects of the subsequent war are felt even in Latin America. From the risk of a major escalation in the Middle East and a global economic “shock” to spikes in antisemitic and Islamophobic rhetoric, this Explainer assesses how the conflict has impacted the region. It addresses how it has affected Jewish and Palestinian diasporas, how governments have reacted, and what are the geopolitical ramifications.

The conflict: Following Hamas’ attack, leaving 1,300 fatalities and 230 hostages, including dozens of Latin American nationals, the Israel Defense Forces launched a large-scale military incursion into the Gaza Strip aimed at eliminating Hamas. So far, Israel claims to have killed over 9,000 terrorists (20 to 30 percent of Hamas’ forces), while according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry, Israel’s strikes have resulted in 25,000 civilians killed and nearly 1.9 million displaced. As the war has passed the 100-day mark and international pressure for a permanent ceasefire grows, risks of a wider regional war have increased. The United States and other Israeli allies have pledged support for Israel’s self-defense, warning rogue actors, including Iranian-backed regional proxy forces, to abstain from opening a second front in the war. At the same time, domestic considerations begin to pressure the U.S. government to encourage Israel to scale back the scope of its military action.


Q1: How has the war affected diasporic communities in the region, Jewish and Palestinian?

Latin America is home to one of the world’s largest Palestinian and Jewish diasporas. An estimated 750,000 people make up the Latin American Jewish community, living mainly in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, and Chile. Not less numerous is the Palestinian community. Today, approximately 700,000 people of Palestinian origin live in the region. Chile, at over 500,000, is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Middle East.

Like in most diasporic communities worldwide, any major conflict in the Middle East impacts Latin America’s Jewish and Palestinian communities. Since the war, communities have been on high alert. One month after the Hamas attack, in a joint operation, the Brazilian Federal Police and the Israeli Mossad dismantled a Hezbollah cell planning to attack Jewish targets in Brazil. In December, Brazilian law enforcement arrested a man suspected of having links to Hezbollah after being caught photographing synagogues and a Jewish cemetery in Brasilia.

Reports of hate speech and violence have also increased. The Latin American Jewish Congress has reported a significant spike in the number of cases of antisemitism on social media across the region compared to the previous year. Antisemitic graffiti has been painted on buildings and graves across the region, including in Argentina and Nicaragua. Palestinians, too, have noticed a change in the climate. In Chile, Diego Khamis, President of the Palestinian Community, has denounced an increase in hate speech on social media and cases of street harassment. Likewise, the Argentine Islamic Center has expressed concern over the rise of Islamophobic rhetoric allegedly promoted by news media organizations. 

Community and government relations across the region have also been affected. In Chile, the Jewish community decided not to attend this year’s official International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration service due to the Boric government’s departure from Chile’s traditionally more balanced approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similarly, in Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, Jewish communities have openly criticized their government’s attitudes towards the war.



Q2: How has the war affected Latin American countries’ relations with Israel?

Unlike previous episodes of violence between Israel and Hamas, the ongoing war has significantly affected diplomatic relations with Israel. Bolivian President Luis Arce cut diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, alleging that Israel has showed a disproportionate and brutal military response. It is not the first time Bolivia has cut diplomatic relations with Israel. From 2009 to 2020, relations were interrupted after former President Evo Morales, accused Israel of genocide.

Other governments’ positions on the war, including those of the left-leaning governments of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, have also affected relations with Israel. President Gustavo Petro’s social media comments one week after the Hamas attack, comparing the Israel Defense Forces to Nazi Germany and the Gaza Strip to the Warsaw Ghetto, prompted a strong reaction from the Israeli government, which led to halting military equipment exports to Colombia.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric accused Israel of disproportionality and violating international humanitarian law. Both Colombia and Chile have recalled their ambassadors to Israel and these governments have joined international calls for a permanent ceasefire and appealed to international tribunals to demand accountability for human rights violations. While the governments of Colombia and Brazil are currently leading the efforts to galvanize regional support for South Africa case’s against Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the governments of Chile and Mexico have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate all human rights violations in the conflict. 

On the other hand, the governments of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay remain more staunchly pro-Israel. The newly sworn-in Argentinian President Javier Milei has already announced his intentions to relocate the Argentinian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is expected that he will make the official announcement during his upcoming trip to Israel in early February.


Q3: How has the war affected Latin American countries’ relations with Palestine?

Most Latin American countries, with the exception of Mexico and Panama, maintain diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority. Under different United Nations mechanisms, Latin American countries have long advocated for a two-state solution and cooperated to stabilize Palestine. 

Since the outbreak of the war, the Palestinian Authority has openly criticized governments in the region that have taken a stronger stance in favor of Israeli actions. The Palestinian Authority Ambassador to Uruguay was summoned by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Relations after publicly complaining about the government’s support for Israel at the United Nations. In Argentina, the Palestinian Embassy, together with local Palestinian movements and left-leaning social movements, have organized mass protests in support of Palestine.

Although no government in the region maintains open relations with Hamas, the governments of Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela—all regional allies of Iran—have avoided condemning Hamas’ attack. Argentina is expected to join Western countries to become the first country in the region to declare Hamas as an international terrorist organization.


Q4: Looking forward, will this affect their relations with the United States?

Some governments’ positions regarding the war have already affected relations with the United States. The greatest impact has been on U.S.-Colombia relations.

Following Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s comments on social media comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism (SEAS) Amb. Deborah E. Lipstadt immediately posted on X, “We were shocked to see Colombian President Gustavo Petro compare the Israeli government to Hitler’s genocidal regime. We strongly condemn President Petro’s statements and call on him to condemn Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, for its barbaric murder of Israeli men, women and children.” Although not verified, press reports suggest that Vice President Francia Marquez’s planned trip to the U.S. last October was canceled due to Petro’s comments.

Additionally, U.S. Members of Congress, including Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, as well as Republican Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, have strongly condemned Petro’s statements, characterizing them as antisemitic. These comments matter because Rubio and Cruz sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), while Díaz-Balart is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the House Committee on Appropriations. Both the SFRC and the Appropriations Committees determine funding decisions on U.S. initiatives.

As the war continues and international calls for a ceasefire grow, including from some of Israel’s initial supporters like the European Union, it is expected that Latin American governments will continue to speak out against Israel’s military incursion in the Gaza Strip. This may end up straining U.S.-Latin American relations, including with important regional players such as Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico.


Q5: Does the war and its fallout bring Latin American countries closer to Arab countries, China, or other actors?

Hamas’ October 7th terrorist attack came at a decisive moment for the Middle East. Israel and Saudi Arabia were close to striking a U.S.-backed deal to normalize relations. Instead, Israel’s military incursion into the Gaza Strip froze the negotiations. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, among other Arab countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, has taken a solid non-interventionist stance on the war, calling for a permanent ceasefire.

Further afield, China has aligned itself against Israel and in support of a ceasefire. China’s position on the war is, therefore, directly aimed at garnering support among Arab and Muslim countries, demonstrating it is a power that can stand up to the U.S., Israel, and their allies.

The problem for China is that Arab and Muslim countries are themselves divided on Hamas’ attacks and the war in general. On the international stage, China’s objectives are clear. It intends to offer supportive countries greater access to its funding and markets as an alternative to the U.S.-led system. In exchange, China expects to receive support in international organizations as it challenges the U.S. and its allies on strategic issues such as Taiwan, Xinjiang province, and China’s governance model.

In a region with a long history of opposition toward U.S. intervention, support for the Palestinians is viewed as an extension of anti-imperialism. It is very likely that for the time being, therefore, the major Latin American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, will find themselves more closely aligned with pro-Palestinian position. At the same time, these very principles of anti-imperialism, non-intervention, and human rights may limit the impact of China’s calculated use of crises like the Israel-Palestine War to increase its regional influence.

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