BUENOS AIRES (Dec. 6)
President Chaim Herzog received a warm “Shalom” and a 21-gun salute on his arrival here Tuesday, becoming the first Israeli chief of state to visit Argentina.
The Hebrew greeting was delivered by Argentine President Carlos Saul Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants, who met Israel’s Irish-born president and his wife, Aura, at the airport.
There were no speeches. But after the national anthems of both countries were played and Herzog reviewed a military honor guard dressed in 17th-century uniforms, Menem asked to be invited to Israel.
“I hope you are inviting me to visit Israel, because I have already made plans to visit your country in the second half of 1990,” he told his guests.
The reception given Herzog is the latest example of Menem’s efforts to reach out to world Jewry. Since he took office in July, he has been trying to ease concern in the Jewish community — estimated at 250,000 to 300,000 — about his background and allegiances.
Menem is a Moslem convert to Catholicism with close personal ties to Syria. He heads the Peronist party, which has a dubious record with respect to Jews.
The Argentine president and his Israeli guest have two business meetings scheduled before Friday, when the Israeli president will go to the Bariloche resort for a brief vacation before visiting Uruguay on Monday.
Herzog is expected to ask Menem to intervene with his friends in the Syrian government to ease the plight of Jews in Syria, who are allowed to practice Judaism but not permitted to emigrate. Menem’s brother is the Argentine ambassador to Syria.
The two leaders also will discuss the problem of what Menem has called the “brain drain” from Argentina. Some 3,000 Argentine Jews chose to immigrate to Israel this year, twice as many as last year.
Their departure was prompted by Argentina’s economic woes.