Latinos Are Israel's New Best Friends

Despite the recent Gaza conflict and the subsequent media backlash against Israel, the land of milk and honey has found an unlikely cultural and socio-political marriage with Latin America. Don’t call it the Latin Invasion, but it is a unique relationship that has become increasingly important in recent years.

It started with an influx of Latino culture, highlighted by the booming popularity of and bizarre fascination with the ultra-dramatic telenovela soap operas. Israel has become such a boom market for telenovelas that series stars began doing press tours of the country outfitted with no more than a few words of Hebrew and English. Then the 2007 inauguration of the Israel Baseball League brought a contingent of Latino ballplayers to the country, and Israeli-Latino ties were forever sealed.

While the Israel Baseball League was launching, Project Interchange, a non-profit organization that sends academics and intellectuals from around the world to Israel, was making a push to send Latino-American officials on more goodwill trips. This included the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. In an effort to further relations, the American Jewish Committee organized exchanges to Israel last summer for a group of Hispanic Pentecostal pastors, even prepping them with a class at a Southern California seminary on the essence of Judaism.

Israel has also seen a new wave of South American immigrants seeking work in the country. The number of immigrants is uncertain, but it's been at least enough to warrant the launch of, a help site for Latinos expats in Israel to adjust to the culture and learn Hebrew.

In the United States, efforts to connect Israel with Latinos was born primarily out of a troubling 2007 Anti-Defamation League survey that found 29 percent of foreign-born Latinos harbored antisemitic views, compared to 15 percent of American-born Latinos.

Israel's place in the Latino imagination should not be too surprising. For Catholic populations, Israel remains the center of the religious universe. And Pentecostals, who make up a large portion of Latin churchgoers, believe God promised the Jews Israel as a precondition for the return of Christ.

Demographically, Israel has been seeing an influx of Latin American migrants for over a decade. The migration has established sizeable Latino populations in large urban areas, particularly Tel Aviv. It has even spawned a tight Latino social network that welcomes further migrants and eases their acculturation.

Israel is a prominent trading partner with Latin America. Last year saw an amendment to strengthen Israel and Mexico’s 2000 free trade agreement, a deal that made Israel the first country to have free trade agreements with every NAFTA country. Last year also saw the signing of a historic free trade pact between Israel and MERCOSUR, the powerful trading bloc comprising Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Politically, Israel enjoys friendly relations with all of Latin America although controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently made an unfavorable comparison between the Colombian and Israeli governments.

Altogether it makes for an unlikely partnership between two cultures with little common history or culture, and aside from the recent Chavez comments, the only downside to relations has been the financial problems of the Israel Baseball League which forced the cancellation its 2008 season.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.