Rumors of Jewish, Israeli Involvement Swirl Around Honduran Coup

Ousted Honduran president Zelaya claims Israeli commandos aided in the coup in which he was replaced.

Israel and the small Honduran Jewish and Israeli business community have been a target of recriminations and conspiracy theories in Honduras over the past few weeks, since a coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

The coup took place in the context of the Zelaya's closer ties with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and attempts to change the Honduran constitution to ensure an additional term in office. He was replaced by fellow-party member and former ally Roberto Micheletti.

A particular target of the allegations being spread by Zelaya and his associates in the local and international media is Yehuda Leitner, an Israeli who has been living in Honduras for more 20 years and who owns a communications equipment firm.

After claiming that Israeli commandos had aided in the coup, allegations by Zelaya's associates became even more bizarre, including a claim that they had located cell-phone jamming equipment near the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya is hiding out, on a building owned by Leitner in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

A week ago at a press conference during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the ousted foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, said companies owned by Leitner had provided poison gas for a strike against Zelaya and his people.

Leitner has also been accused in several blogs of connections to the Mossad and involvement in providing weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Leitner, who is deputy chairman of the Jewish community of Honduras, has denied the allegations and said he intends to sue a number of people in Honduras for slander. Israeli officials dealing with the issue said Leitner's business dealings are legal.

"These allegations are groundless," Leitner told Haaretz. "They were invented by people like Patricia Rodas, without the ousted president's authorization. I've known Zelaya and his family for 20 years and they're neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Semitic."

Leitner said Rodas is a supporter of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Chavez, and had tried to strengthen Honduras' ties with Iran. "She doesn't like Jews either," he said.

"This is a contemporary blood libel. They're using the Israeli issue because they know it will get headlines in the international media," he said.

According to sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the few dozen Israelis living in Honduras are involved in agriculture, fish-farming and security. Some had maintained close ties with Zelaya and thereafter with Micheletti. The latter has also consulted with local Israelis on issues involving governing the country and solving the crisis.

Relations between Israel and Honduras are strong. A few weeks before the coup, deputy foreign minister Daniel Ayalon met in Honduras with Zelaya and the two exchanged hugs and warm words. Israel has no resident ambassador in Honduras; the new Israeli ambassador to Guatemala, Eli Lopez, also represents Israel in Honduras.

Lopez, who arrived a few weeks before the coup with a letter of accreditation for Zelaya, was unable to deliver the letter before the crisis ensued. It was rumored that Israel would represent Honduras' interests in Argentina, followed by rumors that Israel had recognized the new regime in Honduras.

The new regime attempted to gain recognition from Israel by repeatedly inviting Ambassador Lopez to meetings in Honduras and to offer his letter of accreditation.

Lopez, as directed by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, politely declined the request.

The new regime, which has sought every possible avenue for international recognition, has said Honduras is like Israel because it is surrounded by enemies.

The embroiling of Israel in a political crisis in a small Latin American country has caused embarrassment in Jerusalem. Officially, the Foreign Ministry has said only: "Israel is closely following events in Honduras and hopes that the Organization of American States will bring about a solution to the crisis in the best possible way."

Anti-Semitism on the airwaves

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador in Honduras has condemned anti-Semitic remarks by a local radio news director who has been an outspoken opponent of the coup.

Ambassador Hugo Llorens sent a letter to Radio Globo owner Alejandro Villatoro expressing astonishment and incomprehension over the September 25 remarks by station director David Romero.

Commenting on the rumors alleging Israeli involvement in the crisis, Romero referred to the Holocaust and added that he believed it would have been fair and valid to let Hitler finish his historic vision.

Romero later apologized for the remarks in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that they were stupid statements made in the heat of the moment and that don't reflect his actual views.