The leading presidential candidate in the Dominican Republic told NJJN in an exclusive interview that if elected he would move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We have been talking with a lot of different friends here and if President [Donald] Trump is also moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, what’s the big deal?” asked L. Ramfis Dominguez-Trujillo. “It’s a bilateral move that makes sense.”
On March 13, Dominguez-Trujillo attended the 39th annual Founder’s Day Dinner of Rutgers Chabad in New Brunswick, which drew 300 people to the organization’s College Avenue building. Three individuals were honored at the dinner — Ruth Hyman of Long Branch, Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayan, and Rutgers Chabad alumnus Yair Klyman, founder of Klyman Financial and, a year ago, the Rutgers Chabad Alumni Group, which has already raised $40,000 in donations.
Approximately $500,000 was raised from the dinner, according to Chabad executive director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach. He also announced a campaign to pay off the remaining $4 million mortgage on the $20 million expansion of its building, which opened four years ago.
“By our 40th anniversary dinner in December we expect to have it paid off,” he told the crowd.
Dominguez-Trujillo told NJJN he had researched his ancestry and learned he has some Jewish bloodlines in his family. “I am a Jew,” he said. Many Sephardic Jews who fled Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition in the 15th century settled in Latin America and the Caribbean.
His grandfather, Rafael Trujillo, was a brutal dictator who ruled the island nation from 1930 to 1961, killing many of his own people and about 25,000 Haitians. Yet he took in hundreds of Jewish refugees who fled the Nazis during the Holocaust, though his intentions were not altruistic: He had hoped Jews would marry native Dominicans and lighten the complexion of his people.
After world leaders met at the Evian Conference in 1938 to discuss increasing numbers of Jewish refugees, Trujillo offered to take in 100,000 Jews, the only country willing to admit a substantial number. In the end, just 854 immigrated to Sosua in the tropical island nation, where they lived out the Holocaust in safety. After the war, most moved to the United States, although Sousa still retains a small Jewish population.
The candidate was first introduced to Chabad by Pedro Montalvo-Vientos, a Sephardic Jew from Puerto Rico who now lives in Monmouth Junction. In a phone interview with NJJN, Montalvo-Vientos said he was contacted by a friend asking for help in vetting the candidate on Jewish issues, and so he spoke with Dominguez-Trujillo.
“One of the first things I asked him is about the connection the Dominican Republic has with Israel,” said Montalvo-Vientos. “I knew the Dominican Republic has not had a very good history in voting in favor of Israel at the United Nations.”
After being assured of Dominguez-Trujillo’s pro-Israel stance, he set up a conference call with Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, administrator of Rutgers Chabad and religious leader of Chabad of North and South Brunswick, located near Montalvo-Vientos’ home.
On the day of the Chabad dinner, Montalvo-Vientos asked Dominguez-Trujillo if he considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
“He told me once he was president one of the first things he will do is sign an executive order moving the embassy to Yerushalayim,” said Montalvo-Vientos, noting polls show the candidate with strong support in the Dominican Republic and among expatriates.
Dominguez-Trujillo was born in New York to Dominican parents and raised in Miami. He never met his controversial grandfather, who was assassinated in 1961, nine years before Dominguez-Trujillo’s birth. He maintains homes in both Miami and the Dominican Republic, which, because of his family’s history, he was barred from visiting until 2000.
The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy, and its current president is Danilo Medina. Dominican citizens residing abroad can vote in the May 2020 election. Dominguez-Trujillo has formed his own political party — Partido Esperanza Democratica, the Democratic Party of Hope — which has offices in New York City because of its large expatriate Dominican population.
Said Montalvo-Vientos, “I’m really happy I was able to bring such a strong supporter of Israel to the Jewish community.”