image Photos: Flash90, Haim Zach (GPO)

Colombia opens Jerusalem trade office

Bogata’s trade and innovation office will operate as a satellite of its Tel Aviv embassy, in a nod toward recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

By Erin Viner

Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez inaugurated the center as part of this 3-day state visit, delivering on his commitment to Jerusalem made during an address to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee last year.

The opening as been greeted as a success in Israel’s campaign for international recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. The United States was the first country to do so in 2017 with the relocation of its embassy there the following year. Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo have also opened embassies in Jerusalem, while Equatorial Guinea and Malawi have also pledged to do so. Hungary and the Czech Republic have also opened diplomatic offices in the city.

A large delegation led by the Colombian leader included senior members of the Colombian cabinet, including: Minister of National Defense Diego Andrés Molano Aponte; Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Rodolfo Enrique Zea; Minister of Health and Social Protection, Dr. Fernando Ruiz Gómez; Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism María Ximena Lombana Villalba; Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Carlos Eduardo Correa Escaf, and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Javier Echeverri Lara. Also joining were members of the Latin American country’s tiny Jewish community, which is estimated to be around 10,000 people.

The two nations have long enjoyed good relations. Colombia established diplomatic ties soon after Israel was founded in 1948, and the two nations formalized a free trade agreement (FTA) in 2020.

“We started #VisitaAIsrael, a country with which we have historical relationships. We arrived to materialize specific agreements derived from the FTA and attract investment in technology, science, health and innovation, consolidating ourselves as your main ally in Latin America,” President Duque tweeted immediately upon his arrival in the Jewish State on Sunday.

One of his first activities in Jerusalem included a visit to the Western Wall in the Old City. Duque wore a kippah head covering as he prayed at the holiest site in Judaism also revered by Christians; and followed by the traditional placement of written note between the ancient walls where both biblical temples once stood.

“There’s a short communication line to Almighty over there,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said of the Western Wall when President Duque told him about his moving experience later that day. Bennett added that the visit “is a very meaningful gesture for the Jewish people, for the State of Israel, and I can tell you confidently that it’s also going to bring you good fortune.” The Israeli leader also presented the Colombian President with an ancient coin as a gift.

While their talks focused on bilateral cooperation in climate innovation, the two also discussed common security challenges – especially the Iranian threat. Prime Minister Bennett also notably thanked President Duque for Colombia‘s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and the Lebanon-based Iranian proxy Hezbollah as terrorist entities.

“Over the years, the relationship between Israel and Colombia has evolved greatly, and having you here in Jerusalem to open the first Colombian innovation office is a sign that our relationship is growing stronger than ever,” commented Prime Minister Bennett, who said he was “delighted to welcome the President of Colombia, Ivan Duque, to Jerusalem. I can tell you that I found a friend, a friend of Israel and a personal friend. I want to thank you for your ongoing warmth and friendship to the Jewish people and to the Jewish State.”

Emphasizing that Israel is honored to be chosen as the first country where Colombia opened an innovation center,” Bennett said that the move, “marks another milestone in your legacy, Mr. President, of strengthening the bond between our nations.”

During an official welcoming ceremony hosted by Israeli President Isaac Herzog,  President Duque reviewed an Israeli Navy honor guard at the President’s Residence, and the IDF Band played both nations’ anthems. The two leaders held a diplomatic working meeting in which they discussed opportunities for Israel and Colombia to collaborate on environmental technologies and investments to promote green energy and sustainability.

“I welcome your inauguration of an innovation office in Jerusalem, the first of its kind outside of Colombia,” said President Herzog, adding that the 2020 FTA “marked a welcome high point” in bilateral ties that afford “our countries are partners in each other’s growth: Israeli citizens enjoy Colombian produce, while Colombia enjoys Israeli agricultural technologies.”

Turning to regional matters, Herzog said, “Like Israel, I know that Colombia is concerned about Iran and Hezbollah’s terror cells being established on your border with Venezuela. From many years of experience, it is clear that these forces must be stopped swiftly—if not a minute sooner.”

Addressing Israeli-Colombian ties in multilateral forums, President Herzog said: “I must say that I greatly appreciate your stand in international organizations, standing by Israel’s side in the whole international arena. This is the measure of true friendship. Colombia’s recent admission to the IAEA Board of Governors is a welcome development, and I hope that this important position will enable you to advance a meaningful diplomatic battle against the Iranian nuclear program.”

President Duque said Israel and Colombia “are at a high point of bilateral relations,” and expressed intent to “triple exports in the next few years. We want to boost connectivity, artificial intelligence, internet of things, agricultural technology and attract more Israeli technology in our country.”

During a state dinner in his honor at the President’s Residence last night, Duque raised a toast saying that “Colombia is Israel’s number one ally in Latin America.”

“I feel very happy when I see these two flags, because these two flags symbolize that whatever we have been able to do, we will do much better. We want to create the Colombia-Israeli Business Council. And we want this to be a private sector coordination mechanism that goes beyond any political cycle, including my own term, so there’s no way back,” he said, expressing Colombia’s hope of becoming Israel’s “Start-Up Nation sister in Latin America.”