CubaNews / June 2010
By Larry Luxner
Cuba and Israel have not had diplomatic relations for over 36 years, when Fidel Castro broke ties with the Jewish state in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Given current Middle Eastern tensions over Gaza, the two countries — which in pre-Castro days enjoyed a strong friendship — are unlikely to kiss and make up anytime soon. Even so, restoring ties would be up to the Cubans alone, says Dorit Shavit, deputy director-general at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of its Latin America/Caribbean division.
“Cuba cut relations with Israel, not the other way around. So, diplomatically speaking, Cuba is the one which should take the first step to re-establish relations,” she told CubaNews on the sidelines of an international Haiti conference in the Dominican beach resort of Punta Cana.
Shavit spoke to us the day before Nicaragua announced it was breaking relations with her country in the wake of Israel’s attack on a Turkish-led aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Since the May 31 incident — in which ambushed Israeli commandos killed nine Turks aboard a Gaza-bound ship — anti-Israel rhetoric has reached a fever pitch in many countries around the world, and some of the loudest screams are coming from Havana.
On Jun. 14, Israel denounced comments issued by Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, amid debate in the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council. The mission quoted Fidel Castro, who compared Israel’s siege of Gaza to Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” which resulted in the murder of six million Jews.
“The hatred felt by the state of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the one and a half million men, women and children of that country to the crematoria, where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis,” the 83-year-old Castro wrote in one of his many online essays. “It would seem that the Füehrer’s swastika is today Israel’s banner.”
Reaction from Jerusalem was swift and angry.
“With these outrageous comments, Fidel Castro shames his old-time companions and the ideals he always pretended to serve,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “Che Guevara must be spinning in his grave.”
It has remained a quiet irony for years that Israel is the only country on Earth (aside from tiny Pacific island states like Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands) that consistently supports the U.S. embargo of Cuba every year when it comes up for a vote in the UN General Assembly.
Yet Israel is also among the largest investors in Cuba’s agriculture industry. Panama-based Grupo BM Ltd., which is backed by Israeli capital, supervises the highly successful citrus export operations of Jagüey Grande, in Matanzas province. The company has also invested heavily in Havana’s Miramar Trade Center office complex.
Asked how Israel could support the embargo — which Cuba calls a “blockade” — Shavit said it was a matter of pragmatism.
“Relations between Israel and the United States are very important for us, and if there are two or three things that are so important to the United States — when weighed against Cuba — then we will do what we need to do,” she said.
In Washington, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American from Florida and ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted reports that Cuba would assume the #2 position on the UN Human Rights Council, and that the council would name to its advisory committee Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, the former Nicaraguan foreign minister who later served as president of the UN General Assembly.
“Shameful is the only word that can describe any organization that would promote Cuba as a defender of human rights, while naming an anti-American, anti-Israel former Sandinista mouthpiece as an advisor,” said Ros-Lehtinen, a staunch defender of Israel. “The world has witnessed outrageous behavior by the UN Human Rights Council time and time again — from its rabid anti-semitic and anti-Israel bias to the blind eye it often turns toward brutal regimes.”
Ros-Lehtinen said the United States was wrong to join and legitimize this “rogues’ gallery” in the first place.
“I call on the U.S. to stand up for all the victims of the Cuban regime — and those suffering under the boot of repressive regimes worldwide — by withdrawing from the so-called ‘Human Rights Council’ and cutting off U.S. taxpayer support for it,” she said.
Critics like Ros-Lehtinen say many of the council’s 47 members have no business lecturing Israel on human rights considering their own awful track record. Besides Cuba, these dubious defenders of democracy and freedom include Angola, Cameroon, include are no shining examples of human rights and freedom. Besides Cuba, some of the 47 of the council include such paragons of democracy and human rights as Angola, Cameroon, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.