Approximately 500 million people worldwide speak Spanish. From where do these people receive their news about Israel?
Unfortunately, says Leah Soibel, founder and director of Fuente Latina, many receive it from news channels like HispanTV, a Spanish-language channel funded by Iran. And HispanTV is currently reporting that the Covid-19 outbreak is really a form of biological warfare planned by Israel and the United Stated against the rest of the world.
To learn more about Israel’s PR battles in Spanish-language media, The Jewish Press spoke with Soibel.
The Jewish Press: What’s your background?
Soibel: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to parents from Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2003, I started working for The Israel Project, and after seven years there, I decided to establish an organization dedicated to making sure Spanish media have all the tools they need to cover Israel accurately.
They can be in Madrid, Miami, or Mexico City – they call Fuente Latina and say, “I want to interview this Israeli startup” or “I want to interview this member of Knesset,” and it is Fuente Latina’s job to assist them as quickly as possible.
Why is such an organization necessary?
There are 60 million Hispanics in the United States today. By 2050, they are slated to become at least 30 percent of the total U.S. population. Two-thirds of them live in just five states, and those five states have the largest number of electoral votes.
Incidentally, when I started Fuente Latina, Iran was – unbeknownst to me – launching HispanTV. This channel is still around today, and it’s fully funded by the Iranian government. One of its main purposes is to win global Latino hearts and minds against Israel and the United States.
How influential is HispanTV?
It’s available in at least 26 U.S. cities, and I know for a fact that they have at least two correspondents based in the United States, one in Miami and one in Los Angeles. HispanTV can also be seen in practically every country in Latin America. They have correspondents throughout the continent. They also have a significant online presence.
There’s a half billion Spanish speakers estimated worldwide, and HispanTV is doing its utmost to reach every single one of them.
Whom does Fuente Latina target more: Hispanics in the United States or in South America?
We focus the majority of our time on the Hispanic community in the United States.
Is it important for Israel to also target South Americans as part of its PR battles?
It’s very important. If you look at the countries that recently moved their embassies to Jerusalem or are considering it, they were [mostly] Latin American countries. Latin American countries were also key in voting in favor of the Jewish state in 1947 at the United Nations.
We also have to take into consideration that Latin America is home to a very large Arab Diaspora community. They’re not Muslim; they’re Arab Christians, but they’re identifying with Hamas and the Palestinians and not with the local Jewish community or Israel. Some of the rise of anti-Semitism and BDS in Latin America is a direct result of this very large Arab Diaspora community.
Latin America is also important because it has been kind of a breeding ground for Islamic terrorist organizations, particularly Hezbollah and military wings of the Iranian government. Up until recently, Hezbollah and Iran have used Latin America as their playground; they fundraise and send back funds to the Middle East to carry out illegal and criminal activity. They’ve even been proselytizing and converting local populations to Islam.
Are Latinos mostly pro-Israel, anti-Israel, or neutral?
Each country is different. By and large, though, we’re definitely seeing a strengthening of relations between Israel and many Latin American countries in recent years.
How would you characterize the views of Hispanic Americans?
It’s also not homogenous. But I would say there’s a lack of knowledge. When Hispanics are asked “Whom do you side with?” they don’t know. So it’s really a race to familiarize them with Israel and their Jewish community. Whoever is able to get to this community first is going to see them siding with their community.
What does Fuente Latina mean?
“Fuente” has two meanings. One is “source” – like a source of information – and the other is “fountain.” “Latina” just means “Latin.”
Is it true that two journalists won regional Emmy awards thanks to Fuente Latina?
Yes. Both women were from Miami who went on our fully-subsidized trips to Israel and filmed different interviews while there. When they came back home, they edited the content and submitted it for an Emmy. One was for breaking news and the other was for religious news. These were several-part series on Israel – all positive, all accurate.
How many Spanish journalists do you bring to Israel every year?
On average, 50 journalists and influencers.
Other organizations also bring Spanish-language journalists to Israel, but we’re the only organization that has a follow-up mechanism and that works 24/7 to provide these journalists and influencers with anything they need to cover Israel. We follow up with journalists on a constant basis.
What kind of work have you been doing during this pandemic?
We should never belittle the influence of HispanTV given the fact that it has a much larger budget and reach than Fuente Latina. I really want to stress that Israel doesn’t have a 24/7 Spanish-language international TV news network like the Iranians, Palestinians, and Hezbollah.
And it’s so important that as we battle anti-Semitism and misinformation in English, we don’t ignore what’s going on in Spanish because in some cases it’s much more violent and aggressive, and you have a fraction of the organizations that we have in English combating it. Fuente Latina is one of the handful.
The extremists are investing a lot of time, money, and resources to win over Hispanic hearts and minds, and there’s been a very significant information void during this pandemic. So what we’re doing is ensuring that Spanish-language journalists in Spain, the U.S. and throughout Latin America don’t become reliant on HispanTV, or Chinese TV, which is spreading horrible fake news about Jews and Israel.
There are some anti-Semitic content in English related to the pandemic, but it seems relegated for the most part to a lunatic fringe. Is this content a bigger danger in Spanish?
Yes, and it goes back to what I said about Hispanics not knowing whom to side with. I’ve spoken with journalists who watch HispanTV as a source of information. This is an audience that is very unfamiliar with the issues. So whoever targets their feed most often is going to [gain an advantage].