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U.S. Jews Show Support for Costa Rica, El Salvador

Costa Rica and El Salvador may not be feeling lonely these days thanks to heavy tourism, but visits like the one this week from the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are still welcome.

Of course, unlike other visitors, the six-person delegation had an unusual purpose: to show appreciation for the countries’ stalwart support of Israel and their climates of religious tolerance.

“Both Costa Rica and El Salvador have long been friends to Israel and the U.S.,” Conference president Ronald Lauder said after a 75-minute meeting with Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez late Tuesday.

The Conference, he said, wants “to work with Costa Rica and El Salvador to help them.”

The only two nations in the world with embassies to Israel in Jerusalem, the disputed capital claimed by Israel but unrecognized by most of the world, Costa Rica and El Salvador have long enjoyed respect among pro-Israel groups.

But that respect has rarely translated into meeting their needs for investment, trade and cultural exchange.

While tourism has become Costa Rica’s leading industry in recent years and a large number of the tourists are believed to be Jewish, little organized “Jewish tourism” exists per se, Conference executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said.

Lauder said Costa Rica is also looking for increased investment in high-tech industries to complement the Intel assembly factory that opened here in 1998. American Jews could play a role in both fields, he said.

The support of Israel by Costa Rica and El Salvador has long been a source of curiosity.

El Salvador has a small Jewish community.

Costa Rica’s Jewish community is believed to be under 4,000 people, although as Lauder and Hoenlein noted, a quarter of Rodriguez’ Cabinet is Jewish despite the community’s traditional support of the opposition party.

Conference officials said they are planning an event later this month in Israel to honor the Costa Rican and El Salvadoran ambassadors there.

“We don’t take friends for granted,” Hoenlein said.

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