jerusalem | When the recent Iran nuclear deal was announced, Leah Soibel’s phone began to ring. Latino media outlets around the world were looking for Spanish-speaking experts who could comment on the agreement, and Soibel was just the person to help them.
Soibel is the founder and executive director of Fuente Latina, a 2-year-old nonprofit based in Jerusalem that provides Spanish-language information, networking and educational outreach about the Middle East and Israel to the global Spanish-language media.
Earlier this year, Fuente Latina was accepted into the newest cohort at UpStart Bay Area, an S.F.-based nonprofit that provides development and organizational coaching for innovative Jewish undertakings. Some of Fuenta Latina’s funding comes from the MZ Foundation, an Oakland-based enterprise that works to combat anti-Semitism.
Taylor Epstein, UpStart’s interim program director, said Fuente Latina provides a new focus on media engagement within the UpStart network. “How does media impact the way we connect in the Jewish community,” Epstein said, “and how do we support those who share the cultural narrative?”
Fuente Latina’s strategy is to reach out to Spanish-language journalists and media outlets — from a Univision TV affiliate in Los Angeles to El País newspaper in Spain to Radio Cooperativa in Chile. Hardly any organization from an Israeli or Jewish perspective speaks in Spanish directly to the Latino media, but Soibel is hoping to change that.
“In the pro-Israel communications world, very few are doing it in Spanish,” Soibel said.
The need is urgent, according to Soibel. There are 600 million Spanish speakers around the world, but news about Israel in Latin American markets is often distorted or anti-Semitic, she said. Last summer during the Gaza War, five Latin American countries with otherwise good relationships with Israel withdrew their ambassadors.
“What are we not doing, not saying, not communicating?” Soibel asked rhetorically. “What is going on there that they think Israel doesn’t have a right to defend itself?”
Soibel, 37, is the U.S.-born child of Argentinean parents. She grew up in St. Louis, where she was raised “very Zionist and Jewish” but routinely sent home from her Orthodox school when her parents packed typical Argentinean ham sandwiches in her lunch. As an adult, she studied at the Arabic Language Institute at the American University in Cairo (she speaks English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew). She made aliyah 11 years ago and lives in Jerusalem with her husband, a journalist for the Associated Press.
Soibel was inspired to start Fuente Latina (“Latina Source”) after working for seven years at the Israel Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit that engages the media and the public about Israel and the Middle East. There she worked with hundreds of journalists, providing information, briefings, educational trips, and photos and videos.
As the Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya networks rose to prominence, the Israel Project emphasized reaching out to the media in Arabic. But Soibel noticed a lack of resources for Spanish-speaking journalists,
and in her last two years at the Israel Project, she focused on the Spanish-speaking media market.
Now, Fuente Latina brings journalists to Israel for one-week educational trips, provides free photos and videos to reporters and takes them on helicopter tours so they can see the country and shoot valuable video footage. It also helps journalists connect to Spanish-speaking sources who are relevant to the topic of the day or to stories that would play well in the Latino community. For example, when two Argentinians were recently elected to the Knesset, Soibel let Latino journalists know about the story.
Fuente Latina has a staff of four and offices in Jerusalem and Madrid, with plans to open a Miami office soon, add staff, and relaunch its website with an English section and more resources.
The goal is to engage with journalists as they “parachute in” for conflicts and to continue those relationships, Soibel said. She also wants Latino journalists to see that there is more to Israel than geo-political issues.
“We don’t take a political position, and if we did, we would lose journalists,” Soibel said. “We provide facts. We provide information.”