On July 18, 1994, a Renault van packed with explosives crashed into the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Jewish Community Center). The ensuing blast killed 85 people, including 67 inside the building and destroyed the center completely. Iran is widely believed to be responsible for the attack.
The Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina was established in 1894 to promote the well being of the Jews of Argentina. On July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a Renault van with over 600lbs of ammonium nitrate and gasoline into their building in Buenos Aires. The blast destroyed the load-bearing wars collapsing the whole building. Inside 67 people died. In additional 18 bystanders on the street were killed by the explosion.
The blast came two years after a similar attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29. The Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the bombing. The Islamic Jihad was tied to Hezbollah the Iranian backed militia in Lebanon. Argentina formally accused Iran of being behind the attack, but to date, no one has been brought to justice for the killings.
Argentina adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism
(June 8, 2020 / JNS) Argentina adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, its foreign ministry announced on Sunday.
A resolution called on all government branches to use the definition “to contribute to the fight of the Argentine Republic against anti-Semitism in all its forms, collaborate in the construction of a culture of prevention of hostility and violence to which prejudice and intolerance lead, promote education for plurality and reinforce the task of guaranteeing the fulfillment of the objective of education, memory and investigation of the Holocaust and its lessons for us and future generations.”
The IHRA definition says: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The South American country has a history of anti-Semitic tragedies, including the terrorist attack on the Mutual Israelite Association of Argentina, or AMIA, Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. A bomb killed 85 people and wounded hundreds—native-born Argentines, temporary residents and tourists.
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Iran denies involvement in 1994 Argentinian Jewish centre bombing
A woman chants the Argentine national anthem holding a portrait of the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman outside the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in January. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
A woman chants the Argentine national anthem holding a portrait of the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman outside the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in January. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Last modified on Tue 19 May 2015 21.39 BST
Senior Iranian officials have denied involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, saying the charges levelled against them in Argentina are the result of US and Israeli influence.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and current adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Argentina’s C5N TV channel that neither he nor his country was responsible for the attack, which killed 85 people.
The bombing of the AMIA centre – the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history – has returned to the spotlight this year, following the unexplained death of a prosecutor who was investigating the attack.
“We believe that this is a baseless accusation, false – a lie,” he said in the late-night broadcast. “We recommend Argentina not fall under the influence of the Zionists.”
Several Iranian officials are on an Interpol wanted list in connection with the bombing of the Amia centre – the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history.
Questioned as to whether he would be willing to testify before an Argentinian judge about the case, Velayati said there was no reason for him to do so and countered by asking whether Argentinian officials would be prepared to face interrogation in Iran for failing to comply with a nuclear cooperation agreement that the two countries signed in the early 1990s.
Velayati and Iranian cleric Moshen Rabbani were accused earlier this year of conspiring with aides to Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to clear Iran of charges in return for trade concessions.
Rabbani told C5N TV – a station considered friendly to the Fernández government – that the allegations were baseless.
“It’s all invented by the press, the intelligence services,” the cleric said and hinted at Israeli involvement in the death.
“The people he worked with knew he wasn’t any use to them any more, that he had to go. I don’t know if it was murder or suicide, but they could have murdered him because it was going to come out that Iran was innocent,” he said.
Argentina Virtual Jewish History Tour
Argentina is the second largest nation in Latin America and boasts the largest Jewish community in the region, with more than 181,000 Jews (the seventh largest Jewish community in the world). From an open door policy of immigration to the harboring of Nazi war criminals, Argentina&rsquos Jews have faced periods of peaceful coexistence and periods of intense anti-Semitism.
Learn More - Cities of Argentina:
Buenos Aires | Entre Rios | Santa Fe
After the expulsion from Spain in 1492, conversos (or secret Jews) settled in Argentina. Most of these immigrants assimilated into the general population and, by the mid 1800&rsquos, few Jews were left in Argentina.
Argentina gained its independence from Spain in 1810. Bernardino Rivadavia, Argentina&rsquos first president, gave support to policies that promoted freedom of immigration and respect for human rights, i.e., he officially abolished the Inquisition. In this atmosphere of tolerance, a second wave of Jewish immigration began in the mid-19th century with Jewish immigrants arriving from western Europe, especially from France.
In 1860, the first Jewish wedding was recorded in Buenos Aires. A couple of years later, a minyan met for the High Holiday services and, eventually, the minyan became the Congregacion Israelita de la Republica.
In the late 19 th century, a third wave of immigration fleeing poverty and pogroms in Russia, and other Eastern Europe countries, moved to Argentina because of its open door policy of immigration. These Jews became known as &ldquoRusos&rdquo and became active in Argentinian society.
In 1889, 824 Russian Jews arrived in Argentina on the S.S. Weser and became gauchos (Argentine cowboys). The gauchos bought land and established a colony, which they named Moiseville. Due to lack of funding, the gauchos appealed to Baron Maurice de Hirsch for funds and the Baron subsequently founded the Jewish Colonization Association. During its heyday, the Association owned more than 600,000 hectares of land, populated by more than 2,200 Jews. While many of these cooperative ranches are now owned by non-Jews, Jews continue to run some of the properties.
Between 1906 and 1912, Jewish immigration increased at a rate of 13,000 immigrants per year. Most of the immigrants were Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, but a number of Sephardic Jews from Morocco and the Ottoman Empire also settled in Argentina. By 1920, more than 150,000 Jews were living in Argentina.
Anti-Semitic attacks against Jews were infrequent in Argentina before World War I. Following the Russian Revolution, between 1918 and 1930, anti-revolutionary feelings developed into full-blown anti-Semitism against the Rusos. From January 7-13, 1919, a general strike in Buenos Aires lead to a pogrom against the Jews. Many were beaten and had their property burned and looted.
Despite anti-Semitic actions against the Jews and increasing xenophobia, Jews became involved in most sectors of Argentine society. Still they were unable to be work in the government or military and so many became farmers, peddlers, artisans and shopkeepers. Cultural and religious organizations flourished and a Yiddish press and theater opened in Buenos Aires, as well as a Jewish hospital and a number of Zionist organizations.
Prior to World War II, thousands of people had links to the Nazis, many as members of the German National Socialist Party Foreign Organization (NSDAP/AO). They were tolerated by the pro-Nazi regimes of Argentine Presidents José Félix Uriburu and Agustín Pedro Justo. In 1938, however, Justo&rsquos successor, Roberto Ortiz, established the &ldquoSpecial Commission to Research Anti-Argentine Activities&rdquo to eliminate Nazi influence in the country. The commission was disbanded, and its findings destroyed when Pedro Pablo Ramirez Menchaca came to power in 1943.
Post-World War II
Adolf Eichmann on trial in Israel
after being captured in Argentina
Juan Peron&rsquos rise to power in 1946 worried many Jews because of he was a Nazi sympathizer with fascist leanings. Peron halted Jewish immigration to Argentina, introduced Catholic religious instruction in public schools and allowed Argentina to become a haven for fleeing Nazis. On the other hand, Peron also expressed sympathy for Jewish rights and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949. Since then, more than 45,000 Jews have immigrated to Israel from Argentina.
Peron was overthrown in 1955, which was followed by another wave of anti-Semitism. In 1960, Israeli agents abducted Adolf Eichmann from a Buenos Aires suburb. The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, in April 1961, aroused further anti-Jewish sentiment in Argentina.
Argentina was under military rule between 1976 and 1983. During this period, Jews were increasingly targeted for kidnapping and torture by the ruling junta about 1,000 of the 9,000 known victims of state terrorism were Jews. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli government had a special agreement with the Argentine government to allow Jews arrested for political crimes to immigrate to Israel. Once the military&rsquos power waned in Argentina, anti-Semitic attacks also declined.
In 1983, Raul Alfonsin was democratically elected as president of Argentina. Alfonsin enjoyed the support of the Jewish population and placed many Jews in high positions.
Carlos Saul Menem was elected president in 1989, his Arab origin and support of Peron worried the Jews, however, he did not follow in Peron&rsquos footsteps. Menem appointed many Jews to his government, visited Israel a number of times and offered to help mediate the Israeli-Arab peace process. After a Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Buenos Aires, Menem immediately expressed his outrage to the Jewish community and, within a week, apprehended those responsible.
Gran Templo de Paso, Buenos Aires
President Menem also ordered the release of files relating to Argentina&rsquos role in serving as a haven for Nazi war criminals. A law against racism and anti-Semitism passed in the Argentine parliament in 1988.
Despite Menem&rsquos sympathetic policies and a democratic regime, the Jews of Argentina were targets of two major terrorist attacks. The Israeli Embassy was bombed in April 1992, killing 32 people. In 1994, the Jewish community headquarters (AMIA) in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 87 people and wounding more than 100 others. The community&rsquos archives were destroyed in the bombing and the event left many emotionally scarred. Though Iran was suspected of involvement, with the help of Argentine police, the culprits have never been found. In 2005, an Argentine prosecutor said the AMIA bombing was carried out by a 21-year-old Lebanese suicide bomber who belonged to Hezbollah.
Jews are active in all sectors of Argentine society and many are prominent figures in the arts, film, music and journalism. Some influential Argentine Jews include: writer Jacobo Timmerman, owner of a local newspaper who campaigned for human rights Rene Epelbaum, who founded a protest group for mothers of political prisoners pianist Daniel Barenboim, and Cesar Milstein, the 1984 Nobel Prize recipient in medicine.
Throughout Argentina&rsquos history, Jews have held a large stake in the country&rsquos fur, textile, chemical, electronics and auto industries. Both Banco Mercantile and Banco Comercial were founded by Jews. On the other hand, Jews are still absent from the high ranks of the military, foreign ministry and judiciary.
Poverty in Argentina is on the rise, affecting Argentina&rsquos middle class, which is losing its small and medium sized businesses. Many Jewish business owners have lost their shops and are unable to pay membership or tuition fees to local Jewish institutions and synagogues. These communal institutions now face declining membership and budgets to maintain their activities and services. A much larger percent of the budgets of these organizations now has to go to emergency economic relief. In response to the economic decline and lack of funds, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency are training new, young lay leaders to rebuild the community and run the local institutions.
The economic situation has caused about 10,000 Jews to leave Argentina in the last few years. About 6,000 immigrated to Israel. Jewish community leaders are hoping that the election of a new president will bring economic stability and cease emigration.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Argentina for two days in September 2017, and spoke at the sites of the 1992 and 1994 bombings against the country&rsquos Jewish institutions. During Netanyahu&rsquos visit, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri announced the transfer to Israel of 139,544 formerly classified documents documenting Argentina&rsquos ties to Nazi Germany during World War II. The trove includes scans of photographs as well as documents from the Holocaust and post-war years. In June 2017 the Argentinian Foreign Ministry announced that they had recently sent the U.S. Holocaust museum a collection of 38,779 relevant letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles. While in Argentina, Netanyahu also met with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. The Israeli Prime Minister continued his trip to Latin America with visits to Mexico and Columbia before returning home.
In 2020, an investigation by Argentine investigator Pedro Filipuzzi revealed a list of 12,000 Nazis in Argentina that apparently have money in accounts at the Zurich-based Credit Suisse investment bank. The list was found in an old storage room at the former Buenos Aires Nazi headquarters.
The hope is that Credit Suisse will search for the accounts on the list and provide restitution to surviving Holocaust victims whose funds were looted by the Nazis. The bank provided a statement to the Jerusalem Post which said, &ldquoFrom about 1997 to 1999, an independent committee chaired by Paul A. Volcker carried out an investigation of Credit Suisse and about 60 other Swiss banks, searching for accounts possibly or probably owned by victims of Nazi persecution.&rdquo The bank said, &ldquoThe committee concluded that its investigation was &ldquounprecedented . [and] and intensive and sustained effort by a large staff of forensic accountants [and] . has provided as full and complete accounting of the status of the accounts in Switzerland of victims of Nazi persecution as is now reasonably feasible. Nonetheless, we will again look into this matter.&rdquo
Argentina&rsquos Jewish community numbered more than 181,000 as of 2012. The vast majority live in Buenos Aires, with approximately 15-20,000 in Rosario, 5-9,000 in Cordoba and 20,000 in other small, rural communities, including some areas in the Sante Fe province. There are also signifcant numbers of Jews in the cities of Concordia, La Plata, and Mar del Plata. The majority of these Jews are Ashkenazi, about 15 percent are Sephardic. Nearly all the Jews speak Spanish &mdash Ladino and Yiddish are rarely spoken. The community is not growing and many young Jews are immigrating to other countries.
Argentina&rsquos Jews have numerous Jewish community organizations. The DAIA (Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas) was founded in 1939 as the political arm of the Jewish community. The DAIA protects Jewish rights and represents the community in the government. Another organization, the AMIA, originally an Ashkenazic mutual-aid society that provided health and human services to Argentina&rsquos Ashkenazi population, now serves the country's entire Jewish community.
ACILBA, Buenos Aires
Most of Argentina&rsquos synagogues are traditional, lying somewhere between Conservative and Orthodox. Buenos Aires has 50 Orthodox synagogues, 21 Conservative synagogues and a few Reform synagogues. Most of the synagogues built before World War II are still in use today.
The Conservative movement became strong in Argentina in 1958 after Rabbi Marshall Meyer took control over Communidad Bet El, the country&rsquos first Conservative synagogue, located in Buenos Aires. His enthusiasm attracted many young adults. Meyer became involved politically, gathered information about political prisoners and published the material in the newspapers.
President Alfonsin appointed Meyer to a government commission that investigated the disappearances of Jews in the military regime. In 1984, Marshall left the community and moved to New York, where he currently serves as the Rabbi for B&rsquonei Jeshrun, another vanguard synagogue in the Conservative movement.
Today, Communidad Bet El also has a day school and attendance on a regular Saturday morning reaches up to 800 worshipers.
Argentina boasts more than 70 Jewish educational institutions, including kindergartens, day schools, elementary and secondary schools. More than 60% of Jewish Argentine youth attend one of these institutions. In Buenos Aires alone, 17,000 Jewish children study in the Jewish educational system
Communities in other cities also have Jewish social clubs, Sociedad Hebraica for Ashkenazi Jews and Casa Sephardi for Sephardic Jews. Maccabe Sport Federation is also active in Argentina. Plays are performed in Yiddish, Spanish and Hebrew in a number of Jewish theaters across the country.
There are also 18 Jewish cemeteries located in Argentina, of those seven are still active. One can find Jewish cemeteries in Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Parana, La Plata, Colinas del Tiempo, Rosario and Sante Fe. La Tablada cemetery in Buenos Aires has been vandalized in anti-Semitic attacks in 1994. Bronze objects were stolen from more than 150 graves.
While Argentina&rsquos Jewish population has many community outlets, one quarter of the population is living below the poverty line. Even well-educated young people are finding it next to impossible to find a job. There are groups in Argentina trying to eradicate this problem. Alianza Solidaria (started by the JDC) is an organization trying to fight poverty among Jews. The Tzedaka foundation is another organization that devotes its efforts solely to helping the impoverished Argentinian Jews.
Even those wealthier Jews who try to help the poor have been unable. In 1998, Banco Patricios collapsed, taking with it millions of Jewish dollars. The Banco Mayo also failed to help the situation as it too went bankrupt in 1999. Because of these circumstances, many once wealthy Jewish organizations are now unable to give funding to charity groups. AMIA, a major benefactor for social programs, is now trying to pay off a $26 million debt.
The DAIA elected an Orthodox Jew to head their organization for the first time in its 80-year history in November 2015. The Delegation encompasses more than 120 Jewish organizations in Argentina, and is the political umbrella organization of the Argentine Jewish community. The newly elected President, Ariel Cohen Sabban, previously served as the treasurer of the DAIA.
Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, the chief rabbi of Argentina, was brutally beaten by a gang who broke into his apartment in the Once neighborhood in the middle of the night on February 25, 2019. The attackers shouted, &ldquoWe know that you are the AMIA rabbi.&rdquo
Davidovich was hospitalized with serious injuries, including nine broken ribs. His wife was restrained but unharmed. The gang stole money and belongings from the apartment. A few days later, graves in the Jewish cemetery in San Luis were vandalized.
On April 5, 2019, Jews leaving a synagogue after Friday night services in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires were atacked by two people who also made anti-Semitic remarks. A month later, on May 18, Rabbi Elyahu Shaman, was attacked leaving his synagogue in the same area. The culprits reportedly shouted racial slurs at Shaman.
Authorities in Buenos Aires arrested two Iranians in March 2019 traveling on fake Israeli passports and were treating them as possible terror suspects. They were picked up after officials raised the alert level because of the proximity to the anniversary of the March 17, 1992, bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.
In July 2019, the Argentine government&rsquos Financial Information Unit froze the assets of members of Hezbollah a day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism, including Hezbollah. The designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group was the first by any Latin American country.
In June 2020, Argentina adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism: &ldquoAnti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.&rdquo
Two people were arrested on April 23, 2021, by the Federal Police Antiterrorist Investigation Unit in the province of Tucuman for planning to attack the local Jewish community. They were caught with firearms, Nazi literature, and objects that identified them with shate groups.
Like other countries around the world, Argentina was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation worsened in 2021 and, at the invitation of the Argentinian government, a team from Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem traveled to Argentina in May to share its experience in dealing with the pandemic. Hadassah and the Israel Institute for Biological Research developed their own BriLife Covid-19 vaccine and the team was exploring the possibility of starting a Phase III trial in Argentina.
Much of Buenos Aires Jewish life centers around the Once district (pronounced on-say). One of Once&rsquos well known synagogues is Yesod Hadat, founded in 1932 by Jews from Aleppo, Syria. It is located on Lavalle 2449.
Once also has a Jewish cultural center, which hosts concerts, lectures and a high school, located at Sarmiento 2233. Other Jewish clubs include Hacoaj and C.A.S.A. Sefardita have a range of sports and cultural activities.
Argentina&rsquos oldest synagogue, Congregacion Israelita de la Republica Argentina, is known as &ldquoLibertad&rdquo because it is located at Libertad 733 in Buenos Aires. The Libertad was dedicated in 1932 and houses a small Jewish museum, which a good collection of photographs and Jewish ritual objects.
The Argentine branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement&rsquos Rabbinical School, opened in 1962 in Buenofirst woman was ordained by the seminary. The seminary acts as a center for interfaith dialogue, hosts Aires and trains Conservative Rabbis from all over Argentina and Latin America. In 1992, the s a high school and a graduate school and offers adult education lessons and seminars for the community.
Buenos Aires has one of the world&rsquos four remaining Yiddish daily newspapers, others are found in Paris, Tel Aviv and Birobidzhan, in Siberia.
Sources: Argentina. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.
Argentina. Jewish Communities of the World
Ira Rosenswaike, &ldquoThe Jewish Population of Argentina: Census and Estimate, 1887-1947,&rdquo Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 22, No. 4 (October 1960), pp. 195-214
Dr. Avi Beker. (ed.), Jewish Communities of the World, Lerner Publication Co. 1998
M.J. Rosenberg. &ldquoIsrael&rsquos Mission is to Save Jews,&rdquo Jacob Richman&rsquos homepage, (March 23, 1984).
Alan M. Tigay. (ed.), The Jewish Traveler, Jason Aronson, Inc. 1994.
Michael Zaidner. (ed.), Jewish Travel Guide 2000, Vallentine Mitchell & Co. 2000.
Itamar Eichner, Netanyahu to receive huge archive documenting Argentina's Nazi ties, Ynet News, (September 11, 2017)
Latin American Allies, Jerusalem Post, (September 10, 2017)
&ldquoArgentina&rsquos chief rabbi brutally beaten in home attack,&rdquo JTA, (February 26, 2019)
&ldquoGraves of Argentinian Jews vandalized in anti-Semitic attack,&rdquo JTA, (February 27, 2019)
&ldquoIranians arrested in Buenos Aires with poorly forged Israeli passports,&rdquo Times of Israel, (March 17, 2019)
Jeremy Sharon, &ldquoAttackers Threaten, Curse Worshipers At Buenos Aires Synagogue,&rdquo Jerusalem Post, (April 7, 2019)
&ldquoRabbi Brutally Assaulted In Buenos Aires,&rdquo Jerusalem Post, (May 23, 2019)
Cassandra Garrison, &ldquoArgentina brands Hezbollah terrorist organization, freezes assets,&rdquo Reuters, (July 18, 2019)
Aaron Reich, &ldquoList found of 12,000 Nazis in Argentina with money in Swiss bank,&rdquo Jerusalem Post, (March 4, 2020).
&ldquoArgentine Federal Police arrests two in Tucumán for planning attack against Jewish community,&rdquo MercoPress, (April 23, 2021).
Abigail Klein Leichman, &ldquoJerusalem medical team brings Covid expertise to Argentina,&rdquo Israel21c, (May 12, 2021).
Photo Credits: Eichmann from US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Libertad synagogue copyright George Wohlberg.
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Virtual Tour of the Buenos Aires AMIA
The hub of Jewish life in Argentina is the AMIA – Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina. Located in Buenos Aires, the AMIA or Jewish Community Center was established in 1894 to foster Jewish culture, traditions, activities and to ensure the continuity of Jewish values. It is also the site of the devastating 1994 bombing, Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack to date. Join Anita Weinstein, Director of Centro de Documentación e Información sobre Judaísmo Argentino ‘Marc Turkow’, as she discusses the physical and historical significance of the AMIA and content from the exhibit, Sites to Remember and Honor , exploring the monuments and works of art dedicated to victims of the Holocaust, the earlier 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aries, and the 1994 attack. The presentation will be followed by a live Q&A.
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Image: Agam sculpture and plaque listing names of the 1994 bombing victims at the AMIA building.
Global Museum Passport: Virtual Home Edition
Travel to exciting destinations and visit venues around the world from the comfort of your couch with Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s new online adventure series, ‘Global Museum Passport: Virtual Home Edition’. Partnering with international colleagues, we will journey to different countries each month to tour special exhibitions, traverse historical sites, and view collection highlights. From Poland to the UK and Russia to Israel, expert staff will share their knowledge and insights, guiding you through unique museum experiences and bringing a distinctive dimensionality to your virtual excursions.
About Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina
AMIA, Jewish Community, founded in 1894 is popularly known as the “mother institution”, the center of community organized life. Its mission is the integrated development of all aspects of Jewish life in Argentina. Its activities are displayed in: social programs, education, employment and training, culture, spiritual assistance and Jewish burial, space for seniors, preservation of the memory, ties with Israel, integration of disabled persons, support the communities of the Interior, activities for youth, and relations with other Jewish communities worldwide.
A Bomb in Argentina: ‘The Jewish community is standing and fighting.'
In 2019, somber commemorations around the world marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building, the center of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires – the deadliest antisemitic attack since the Holocaust. This week we commemorate the 26th anniversary of the attack with the solemn recognition that there is still justice to be done.
On Thursday, AJC will broadcast a historic conversation with Argentine President Alberto Fernández to pay tribute to the 85 victims of the AMIA attack and raise our collective voices against terrorism and antisemitism in all its forms.
Last year in Buenos Aires, former Argentine president Mauricio Macri signed a decree that added Hezbollah to a registry of terrorist organizations – a move long urged by AJC. In addition, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Jewish community, 200 artists chanted a musical kaddish on stage at the iconic Colon Opera House, and thousands of people flooded the street in front of the rebuilt AMIA building as they do every year in an expression of solidarity.
After a turbulent investigative journey, Argentina has laudably identified Iran as responsible for the terrorist attack and adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. And today, Fernández is strengthening ties with the U.S., with Israel, and with the Jewish community in Argentina and around the world.
But survivors still say the most meaningful tribute would be the prosecution of those responsible and a full reckoning for the nation’s failure to hold anyone accountable. An official investigation found that Iran was behind the attack and that the suicide bomber who drove the explosive-laden truck into the six-story AMIA building was a member of Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. Meanwhile the only people convicted in connection with the bombing have been Argentine officials who conspired to cover it up.
Within two days of the attack, AJC was on the ground in Argentina to show solidarity with the Jewish community and put pressure on law enforcement. That support has never waned. To this day, AJC continues to press Argentine officials to name all the nefarious actors behind the crime, to hold the criminals accountable, and to do what’s necessary to prevent future attacks.
To commemorate the tragic event’s anniversary, AJC looks back at events since the attack, as told by AJC CEO David Harris, AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer Jason Isaacson, Director of AJC's Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs Dina Siegel Vann, and longtime AMIA employees Anita Weinstein and Daniel Pomerantz, who both miraculously survived the deadly blast and still work there today.
Daniel Pomerantz, who held an accounting position at AMIA in 1994, was still marveling at Brazil’s fourth World Cup championship win the previous day. When a colleague from human resources called to discuss something work-related, he offered to go to his office. That decision saved his life. He was still there at 9:53 a.m., when the bomb struck his office and leveled much of the AMIA building.
DP: “He asked me a question, I answered and started to walk away. He insisted I stay just one more second to discuss. Fortunately, I survived this discussion. My office was destroyed.”
Anita Weinstein, director of documentation and the information center for AMIA, worked in a separate building just a couple of blocks away. But in 1994, she also was assigned to help organize AMIA’s centennial celebration. Around 9:30 a.m., she walked down the street, entered the main building, and went up to the second floor to see a colleague whose office was toward the rear of the building.
AW: “That made a great difference. As soon as I arrived there the explosion happened. Everything started to shake. We could not breathe. We could not see very well. Those moments, those minutes, that time was terrible.”
Weinstein climbed to an adjacent roof. From there, she looked down and saw the unforgettable scene of destruction, reminiscent of the bombing of the Israeli embassy just two years earlier that killed 29 people.
AW: “That was the first moment we could see the terrible shape of the building, the debris still falling, the horrible moment when we understood that there had been a bombing again.”
David Harris, AJC’s CEO, recalls hearing news of the attack in his New York office. Terrorist attacks, which at the time were increasingly targeted at Israelis, were sadly becoming routine. But as the scope of the atrocity became known, it was clear that this attack was like no other.
DH: “The magnitude of this emerged through the news. Remember, this was pre-Internet, so it took a little longer for the news to be transmitted and verified. But it became clear that this was the single largest terrorist attack against a Jewish target outside of the State of Israel in post-war history.”
DH: “A hundred questions were raised. If there were two attacks in two years, would there be a third attack? It seemed pretty logical. Would it be limited to Buenos Aires? Would it be elsewhere? Was this domestic? Was this international?”
Harris tapped Jason Isaacson and Jacob Kovadloff, then AJC Director of Latin American Affairs, to go straightaway to Buenos Aires. Nearly 17 years earlier, Kovadloff, an Argentine national, had worked for AJC on the ground in Buenos Aires before fleeing the death squads of the military junta.
Isaacson recalls seeing family members gathered on the steps of the Chagall Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, their eyelids swollen, their stares blank, waiting to hear if their loved ones survived.
JI: “This was the worst attack against Jews that had ever happened in the Americas. It was overwhelming. The city was really shaken. The community was shaken. The country was shaken.”
He recalls President Carlos Menem weeping on national television and the 200,000 Argentines who filled the downtown Plaza de los Dos Congresos for hours in the freezing rain to sing Argentina and Israel’s national anthems, recite the mourner’s kaddish, and demand justice.
Government offices had been closed by decree and the trade union federation had called on members to stop work and attend the rally. Banners in Spanish proclaimed: “No to violence,” “Standing up against terror demands that justice is done,” and “Today we are all Jews.”
JI: “In private meetings with AJC, Interior Minister Carlos Ruckauff and Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella were firm in their resolve to trace the source of anti-Jewish terror to its roots -- whether in Hezbollah or another Middle East terrorist group, or in a domestic cell of fanatical antisemites, or possibly both… They vowed continued cooperation with U.S. and Israeli intelligence services.”
But in the weeks, months, years, and decades to come, those promises were never fulfilled, and justice proved elusive. When Isaacson flew out of Argentina a week later, he had no idea that solving the case would be one of his most frustrating and futile challenges to come.
JI: “To keep the pressure on, to keep the spotlight focused on Argentina, we would publish every year on the anniversary a report on what happened with the investigation. Where is the justice? Where is the accountability? What really happened? Argentina had a history of Nazi sympathizers and Nazi SS guys who ended up living there – a whole pool of potential people who hated Jews and would very much like to attack a large Jewish target. It was clear it was a friendly environment for people who hate Jews.”
Harris resolved to go to Argentina annually, which he has done for over a quarter of a century.
DH: “This went very, very high on our agenda. Over the months and years, there have been countless meetings with Argentine officials, Argentine presidents, foreign ministers, interior ministers, justice ministers, ambassadors to Washington, consuls general in New York, and other cities across the U.S. I don’t know how many. To make a long story short, frustration on steroids.”
Dina Siegel Vann worked as director of political affairs for the Mexican Jewish community at the time of the attack. Mexico was already in political turmoil and the news out of Argentina came as yet another troubling development.
DSV: “As a Latin American Jew, it shocked us all… We were not used to Jewish institutions in the region being attacked the way this happened. This really increased our sense of vulnerability and made us aware we were a target. We could be a target anywhere, anytime.”
Harris said Argentina had been woefully ignorant of terrorist threats in the Middle East and had turned a blind eye to the tentacles of those terrorist networks in Latin America – particularly where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. That region, known as the Triple Frontier, had become a hub for Shiite Muslim terrorists, like Hezbollah.
DH: “You had a combination of things in Argentina. There was a lot of corruption and there was a lot of unpreparedness. Argentina was thousands and thousands of miles away from the Middle East. They weren’t ready for this. They didn’t understand Middle East terrorism, how to track it, how to know it, how to confront it. This was out of their realm. As it emerged that this had international fingerprints, as it emerged that the likeliest suspects were Iran and Hezbollah, as it emerged that there might well be local connections with the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires and the Triple Frontier, there were a lot of people in the system who did not want to know the answers.”
When Siegel Vann joined AJC in 2003, the crime was still unsolved. After a nine-year trial with 588 volumes of evidence and 1,284 witnesses, a court acquitted 22 Argentines who had been indicted as the local connection behind the terrorist attack. Instead, the head judge involved in the investigation, the former president, and the intelligence chief were indicted for obstructing justice. The AMIA case would become one of Siegel Vann’s top priorities.
DSV: “It’s a betrayal in so many ways – a betrayal of Argentina’s commitment to a democracy of inclusion and to the Jewish community as a valued element or sector of Argentine society a betrayal of several governments’ commitments to seeking justice. For whatever reasons – economic, political – they chose to betray the commitment they had made to the Jewish community not only in Argentina but around the world.”
That betrayal led a group of family members who lost their loved ones, to give up on the government, file a lawsuit, and appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2005, the Argentine government admitted to that commission that successive administrations had not done enough. Government officials promised a clear and transparent investigation and introduced the possibility of reparations for victims’ families. But even that did not bear fruit.
DSV: “The Argentine state had to accept its culpability and made several commitments that it hasn’t fulfilled – controlling entries and exits from the country, putting in place contingency plans for disasters, and others. They are still pending.”
President Nestor Kirchner had already taken one positive step in 2004 by appointing special prosecutor Alberto Nisman to resume the investigation. Within two years, Nisman produced an 801-page report, indicting seven Iranian officials, including former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Hezbollah’s senior military commander Imad Mugniyah.
The mastermind of the crime, Nisman said, was a man named Mohsen Rabbani, a former leader at a mosque in Buenos Aires called Al Tawhid who went on to serve as a cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy.
Based on Nisman’s report, in 2007 Interpol issued “red notices,” or arrest warrants for five Iranian officials – many of whom had left the country before the bombing – and called for their extradition.
DP: “They should be in jail right now. No one is in jail.”
That same year, Kirchner was succeeded by his wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, an election hailed as a victory for the Jewish community.
During the first years of her presidency, she regularly appealed to the United Nations General Assembly to put pressure on Iran. She often came with a delegation of AMIA survivors. And when Iranian officials stood to speak at the UN, Argentine delegates symbolically walked out.
But after her husband’s death in 2010, Fernandez de Kirchner seemed to do an about-face. She traveled to the United Nations without AMIA survivors and when then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to speak, Argentina’s delegates stayed seated.
In 2012, Pomerantz heard from a journalist.
DP: “He announced that Argentina is going to sign an agreement with Iran in a meeting in Syria. The reaction of all of society in Argentina was [that] it’s not credible. To sign an agreement with the perpetrators, what kind of decision is that? One year later, we discovered it was true. Since the first moment, it was clear that Iran was to be the beneficiary.”
Fernandez de Kirchner and Iranian leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 to launch a joint investigation dubbed a “truth commission.” The agreement said nothing about the Iranian suspects already named.
“We will never again let the AMIA tragedy be used as a chess piece in the game of foreign geopolitical interests,” Fernandez de Kirchner tweeted.
DH: “This was beyond insanity. I said at the time that it was like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht. Every Argentine president for 25 years had looked us earnestly in the eye and said we’re different from everybody else. We’ll get to the bottom of this. We care about this as much as you do. This was our country. This was an attack on our country. And guess what? They’ve all come up short.”
The memorandum raised Nisman’s suspicions too and he launched a separate inquiry. Hours before he was to testify about the results in front of the Argentine Congress, he was found dead in his home, having been shot in the head. Authorities have said it was suicide, but not many believe that story.
Argentina’s government also wasn’t the only one to disappoint Harris. During AJC’s annual diplomatic marathon, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov told Harris that Russia’s intelligence services had gotten wind of a potential terrorist attack in Latin America prior to the AMIA attack and shared the information – to no avail.
DH: “He said it in Russian. His interpreter said it then in English. I speak Russian. So I heard it twice very accurately in Russian and in English. There were a couple of other people in the room. I reported this to the Argentine foreign minister Guido Di Tella who took great interest in it. He immediately dispatched his ambassador in Moscow to go to the foreign ministry in Moscow and to make inquiries about this. Primakov, without blinking an eye, denied ever saying anything. He stonewalled it. ‘I never said it. It’s not true,’ and the Argentines could not break through this. So the judge asked me to come to Buenos Aires. I flew from here to go to his judge’s chambers where he and his staff queried me.”
The exchange led nowhere. Eventually, Harris and Siegel Vann took a broader approach of trying to persuade Argentina to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization and put safeguards in place to prevent another attack.
DH: “The question has remained for us: ‘Do Iran and Hezbollah and kindred spirits view Argentina as a soft target? They had two successful terrorist attacks. They did so with seeming impunity. Could there be a third?’ Part of our agenda became, how do we, broadly speaking, get Argentina to adopt an anti-terrorism law, which they did not have? And in doing that, how do we get Argentina to create their own terrorism list and shouldn’t Hezbollah be on the list? After all, Hezbollah was involved in two deadly attacks. We have not had success with the Hezbollah issue in Argentina until now. But things do not move swiftly or linearly in Argentina, I’ll put it that way.”
At one point, Harris met with the Argentine justice minister to push for that anti-terrorism legislation.
DH: “It was one of many meetings, but I remember that one very vividly. I was sitting across from the justice minister. At a certain point I said to him ‘Mr. Minister may I ask you a question? If I want to support Hezbollah, can I go to one of the hotels in Argentina, take a ballroom and host an event and raise money for Hezbollah? Is that legal or illegal?”
“He said almost immediately ‘You could not do it,’ and I said to him ‘I’m glad to hear that. Could you tell me on what basis would I not be able to do it?’ He said ‘Because Hezbollah is on the United Nations terrorism list, and we in Argentina abide by the UN terrorism list.’ I said to him ‘Mr. Minister, with respect, Hezbollah is not on the United Nations terrorism list.’ He said ‘Are you sure?’ And I said ‘Yes, sir, I am,’ at which point we had the very unusual situation where he essentially asked for a time out. He and his entourage stood up on their side of the conference room and they huddled, and then they came back, as I remember it, he said ‘Yes, my staff confirmed you’re right.’”
“All of this stuff is such a tale of tragedy, of incompetence, of empty-handedness in the end.”
Harris is no stranger to the long game. He knows diplomacy doesn’t always yield an immediate outcome. Still, more than 25 years after the AMIA attack, he wishes there was closure for the victims. They should not have to play the long game.
DH: “We were not going to leave the Argentine Jewish community wounded, scarred, or in battle alone. No matter how frustrated they are with the Argentine government and judicial systems and corrupt judges and all the rest, they must never feel alone. Our job was to make sure they felt they had a lifeline, and through that lifeline, they had solidarity, and they had support, and they had a voice in Washington, and they had a voice in other capitals that would keep this story alive. That part of AJC is very important.”
That feeling of empowerment is why Pomerantz attends AJC Global Forum every year – to say thank you.
Pomerantz said the attack killed and injured so many of the small community, there are very few degrees of separation between someone killed in the blast and other Jews in Argentina. In fact, Harris’s son did a college study abroad experience with a family in Buenos Aires who happened to have lost their son at AMIA that day.
Still, the Jewish community in Argentina, the largest in Latin America, has never been more vibrant, Pomerantz said.
DP: “The Jewish community is standing and fighting. We are seeing the best situation for our community. They didn’t win.”
In July of 2019, the former president Mauricio Macri signed a decree that added Hezbollah to a registry of terrorist organizations, with an aim to curb its terrorist activity by freezing its assets. Additionally, last month Argentina adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. These were long overdue steps in the right direction.
DSV: “We are most pleased that President Alberto Fernandez endorsed his predecessor's presidential decree establishing a registry of terrorist organizations including Hezbollah. This initiative was replicated by Paraguay, Honduras, and Colombia. Hezbollah's destructive presence and activity in the Americas and beyond has to continue to be addressed collectively. That is why we would hope that Argentina would take a leadership role to ensure that the rest of the countries in Latin America follow suit.
We are also thrilled that Argentina joined Uruguay and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro in adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. With the sixth largest Jewish community in the world and the uptick in global antisemitism, Argentina sends a clear message that anti-Jewish hatred, in all its forms, will not be tolerated in the country. Antisemitism today in Latin America is mostly expressed through BDS initiatives and the IHRA Definition clearly includes delegitimization of Israel as a form of antisemitism.
Isaacson insists it’s not too late to confront the past.
JI: “It needs a much higher level of government commitment and commitment to transparency and revelation of the cover up that existed for a longtime. A boldness and self-critical aspect that will allow for a real examination of what happened and the intent to cover up what happened. Justice delayed is justice denied. That doesn’t have to be the end of justice It could still happen. It could still be pursued and realized. Hey, we’re still chasing some old Nazis.”
“Would it bring back 85 souls? Would it relieve Argentina of the guilt of covering up this massive crime? No. But it would be a positive step.”
A president in Iran's pocket, a bomb and a mysterious death: Who's who in the case that's rocking Argentina
Argentine judge and spy chief jailed in AMIA bombing cover-up, ex-president acquitted
Israel killed most AMIA bombers, ex-envoy to Argentina says
&ldquoTwenty-five years after the attack, we haven&rsquot found either truth or justice,&rdquo says Diana Wassner Malamud, 60, who lost her husband Andrés in the 1994 attack. She is the founder of Active Memory (Memoria Activa in Spanish), one of the first pressure groups to form in the months after the attack, fighting on behalf of the victims. From the very start, Malamud&rsquos group was highly critical of the role played by Juan José Galeano, the first judge appointed to oversee the legal investigation, and Rubén Beraja, the then-president of the Argentine-Jewish political umbrella organization DAIA (the Delegation for Argentine Jewish Associations).
&ldquoWe are in this situation because the first judge didn&rsquot do his job and instead committed crimes,&rdquo Wassner Malamud says, &ldquoand because our community leader ended up being part of these crimes and selling our dead ones for money.&rdquo
Earlier this year, Galeano received a six-year prison sentence for concealment and violation of evidence during his handling of the initial probe, which was declared null and void in 2004. An Argentine court found in February that Galeano paid $400,000 to a used car dealer, Carlos Telleldín, to implicate a group of police officers in the 1994 bombing. Telleldín himself had been the last owner of the van that was used in the suicide bombing, which was allegedly perpetrated by a Lebanese Hezbollah operative acting at the behest of Tehran. (Telleldín was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for his involvement.)
In a number of dramatic twists in the story, it later emerged that the bribe had been provided by Argentina&rsquos intelligence services, whose former chief, Hugo Anzorreguy, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years for his involvement.
Former Argentine President Carlos Menem (who is now a senator) and Beraja were among those accused of being involved in the cover-up. Both men were cleared of all charges in the trial, whose judicial process had started back in 2005.
People holding placards that read "Justice" during a rally in front of the headquarters of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, January 21, 2015, following the death of Alberto Nisman. AFP
Beraja, 80, who during his tenure at DAIA was also president of the Latin American Jewish Congress and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, rarely gives interviews. However, speaking with Haaretz last week, he says that the division of the Jewish community has been the terrorists&rsquo &ldquobiggest success.&rdquo He also laments that some of the victims&rsquo relatives hold a &ldquohostile and unfair attitude&rdquo toward him.
&ldquoThe division of the Jewish community has done nothing but weaken the investigation,&rdquo Beraja says. &ldquoI think that every faction should rethink and realign their positions for the sake of the higher objective of punishing the ones who put the bomb there. The goal of the terrorists was not only to generate material damage and kill people, but to actually inflict moral damage to the Jewish people &mdash and leave us in a weaker position.&rdquo
That division will be clearly visible on Thursday when no fewer than four different memorials will be staged. The &ldquoofficial&rdquo ceremony, organized by Relatives and Victims of the Relatives &mdash the organization closest to AMIA and DAIA &mdash will take place at the new AMIA building at 9.53 A.M. (15.53 Israeli time).
Simultaneously, members of Active Memory will gather outside the country&rsquos main courts of justice to stage their own memorial/protest. A splinter group from Relatives and Victims of the Relatives, 18 J, will stage its own memorial event at the new AMIA building later in the afternoon. Meanwhile, President Mauricio Macri&rsquos government will hold a ceremony to present a book published by the Latin American Jewish Congress on the bombing and international terrorism. He will be joined by some victims&rsquo relatives, but no one from Active Memory, 18 J or another pressure group, APEMIA (which itself split from Active Memory in 2002), will be present.
Acts of treason?
Two Jewish figures were central to the AMIA tragedy in the years following the attack: Alberto Nisman, who became the investigation&rsquos special prosecutor in 2004 and Héctor Timerman, the Argentine foreign minister who was one of signatories to a memorandum of understanding with Iran in 2013, creating a &ldquocommission of truth&rdquo to investigate the bombing.
In an incident that reverberated around the world, Nisman was found dead from a gunshot wound in his apartment in January 2015, days after publicly accusing the Argentine government &mdash including then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner &mdash of having colluded with Iran to obstruct justice.
The special prosecutor, who had opposed the diplomatic arrangement from the beginning, contended that there was a &ldquosecret deal&rdquo between Argentina and Iran to close the AMIA case. Nisman based his accusations on press clippings and secret wiretaps of Luis D&rsquoElia and Fernando Esteche &mdash two far-left, marginal politicians with ties to Iran who also backed Kirchner&rsquos government. In their recorded conversations, they claimed to be acting as a bridge between the two countries.
Argentina's then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inspecting Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony hosted by China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing, February 4, 2015. REUTERS
According to Nisman, the main objective of the memorandum of understanding was to drop the international arrest warrants (Interpol red notices) against six senior Iranians accused of orchestrating the attack. The former secretary-general of Interpol, Ronald K. Noble, said in an interview at the time that Argentina never requested that the warrants be canceled.
Nisman&rsquos body was discovered on January 19, 2015, hours before he was due to appear at a congressional hearing to provide more details about his allegations.
Waldo Wolff, who at the time was DAIA&rsquos vice president, tells Haaretz that, for him, Argentina suffered four terrorist attacks: one on the Israeli Embassy the AMIA bombing the signing of the memorandum of understanding with Iran and the &ldquoassassination&rdquo of Nisman.
However, journalist Pablo Duggan, author of a best-selling book about Nisman&rsquos death, begs to differ. &ldquoThis was a suicide, and the only reason to keep the case open is to persecute Cristina Kirchner in an election year,&rdquo he alleges, referring to Argentina&rsquos upcoming presidential election (whose primaries start on August 11).
Following Nisman&rsquos death, two new cases were opened: One focused on Nisman&rsquos accusations against Kirchner and Timerman as initially formulated by Nisman and the other centered on the circumstances surrounding his death. Both cases are ongoing.
Former AMIA President Agustín Zbar, left, and Argentine-Jewish Call Organization founder Jorge Elbaum. Courtesy / Aitana Elbaum
The circumstances surrounding Nisman&rsquos death played an important role in the 2015 presidential election. That February, a group of prosecutors, members of the opposition, the AMIA and DAIA organized a march in Buenos Aires demanding answers into his death, with some implying that Nisman had been assassinated.
DAIA&rsquos Wolff quit his position at the institution to stand in the election as a legislative candidate against Kirchner&rsquos Front for Victory. He joined the Republican Proposal party of current president Macri, following in the footsteps of other Jewish leaders. These included Rabbi Sergio Bergman, who is now the government&rsquos environment minister, and Claudio Avruj, an ex-executive director of DAIA who is now secretary of human rights.
As a result of these political developments, a new Jewish association was formed: the Argentine-Jewish Call Organization. It was founded by Jorge Elbaum, another former executive director of DAIA, and he tells Haaretz that his group was needed because AMIA and DAIA &ldquodo not represent the entire Jewish community as they claim to do.&rdquo
Whereas AMIA and DAIA clashed with Timerman, Argentine-Jewish Call supported him and even named him its honorary president.
The foreign minister was a prominent Jewish figure and the son of Jacobo Timerman, a legendary Argentine journalist who was tortured by the military junta in the 1970s and later exiled to Israel.
People observing a moment of silence during a commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, July 18, 2003. REUTERS
Nisman formally accused Héctor Timerman of &ldquotreason against the Fatherland,&rdquo a rarely used part of the Argentine Constitution to charge those who allegedly collaborated with enemies of the state in a context of war.
Although that case was never pursued, Timerman was indicted in December 2017 for allegedly seeking to cover up Iran&rsquos responsibility for the AMIA bombing. He was placed under house arrest, having recently been diagnosed with cancer.
Javier Timerman tells Haaretz that his brother Héctor &ldquowas the Argentine foreign minister the fact that he was also Jewish was not relevant for the mission he had. My brother wasn&rsquot defending the interests of the Jewish people &mdash he was defending the interests of Argentina.&rdquo
Héctor Timerman&rsquos lawyer, Graciana Peñafort, adds that &ldquonothing hurt Héctor so much as the accusation of having committed treason against Argentina. He always said that this was the history of the Jewish people, or the nonspoken anti-Semitism. &lsquoWe have been always persecuted with the idea that we have dual loyalty,&rsquo he told me. &lsquoI have only one loyalty and that is to Argentina.&rsquo&rdquo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara standing alongside Agustín Zbar in front of a wall with names of the victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, September 11, 2017. HANDOUT/ REUTERS
Héctor Timerman succumbed to cancer on December 30, 2018. After his passing, neither AMIA nor DAIA sent a letter of condolence to his family.
Yet another division
Earlier this year, a new division arose when AMIA President Agustín Zbar sent a letter to his counterpart in DAIA, asking it to remove itself from a lawsuit charging Kirchner with treason for her part in the 2013 Iran pact.
Zbar&rsquos main argument was that the lawsuit was playing a part in domestic party politics, and he argued this was not the role of the Jewish community. He warned that the political and legal dispute over the bombing had caused a deep divide, known as &ldquola grieta,&rdquo within Argentine society. Two days later, he was forced to &ldquotemporarily step down&rdquo from AMIA.
Members of the Argentine-Jewish community standing in front of a wall with the names of the victims of the AMIA bombing Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, July 18, 2004. REUTERS
&ldquoThe reaction against my position was so harsh because I was actually interfering in the attempt to keep using this case politically,&rdquo says Zbar, 57, in his first interview since stepping down in January.
&ldquoI don&rsquot think that [seeking to put Kirchner in jail] is the cause of the Jewish community. When was it a good idea for the Jewish people to be against the majority of the people of the country we live in?&rdquo he asks, with an eye on the upcoming presidential election.
A quarter of a century on, Argentina&rsquos Jewish community is still in grief and torn asunder. Adding insult to injury, the likelihood of the victims&rsquo families ever receiving reparations is seen as highly unlikely.
&ldquoTwenty-five years ago, the Jewish authorities and the Argentine state abandoned all of us, as relatives of the victims,&rdquo says Active Memory&rsquos Malamud. &ldquoI haven&rsquot been able to tell my two daughters what actually happened on July 18, 1994, because I still don&rsquot know &mdash and I don&rsquot think I ever will.&rdquo
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Marking 25 years since Jewish center bombing, Argentina blacklists Hezbollah
Argentina’s government on Thursday branded Hezbollah a terrorist organization and froze its assets, 25 years to the day after a bombing blamed on the Iran-backed group destroyed a Jewish community center in Argentina’s capital, killing 85 people.
The nation’s Financial Information Unit took the action a day after Argentinian President Mauricio Macri’s government created a list of terrorist organizations to help coordinate actions with other nations and as the nation held memorial services for victims of the attack, for which no one has been convicted.
“At the present time, Hezbollah continues to represent a current and active threat to national security and the integrity of the financial, economic order of the Argentine Republic,” the unit said.
It’s not clear how much impact the ruling will have or how many assets Hezbollah might have in Argentina. The Lebanese group already has been put on terrorism lists by the US, the European Union and several other nations.
The designation came as Argentina marked 25 years since the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center.
Sirens rang out in cities throughout the country at 9:53 a.m. the exact time the bomb ripped through the Buenos Aires building, and names of those killed were read out at an official ceremony.
Both Argentina and Israel have attributed the 1992 bombing on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that left 29 dead to Hezbollah.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised Macri for the decision.
“We’ll continue to act in every place to include Hezbollah on the terror organizations list. The entire world must unite in the struggle against terror spread by Iran and its proxies,” Katz wrote on Twitter.
The move was also praised by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said the issue was at the center of her talks with Argentine officials during her recent visit to the South American state.
wish to thank president Makri of Argentina for his important decision to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. This issue was at the center of the political meetings i held during my recent visit to Argentina and is another important step in the war on terrorism
&mdash Tzipi Hotovely (@TzipiHotovely) July 18, 2019
The memorial service began with a moment of silence, followed by a reading of the names of each of the 85 victims.
“How is it possible that 25 years later there has not been a single responsible person imprisoned for this crime against humanity?” asked Ariel Eichbaum, president of the association, which is known by its Spanish initials, AMIA.
“We continue to have questions to which there are still no answers. Twenty-five years have passed and the wound remains open, a wound that cannot be closed without justice,” he added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has ramped up pressure on Iran and Hezbollah while in office, was flying to Argentina to attend another memorial service on Friday and attend a meeting of international officials on fighting terrorism.
Argentina has accused top Iranian ex-officials of being behind the AMIA attack but has never been able to question them.
Decades of investigations have been beset by political interference and allegations of high-level corruption.
With its 300,000-strong Jewish community — second only to the US in the Americas — Argentina is the only country in Latin America to have suffered such an anti-Semitic attack.
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Hero in Aftermath of Argentina Israeli Embassy Attack: We Must Seek Justice
He started with Lea Kovensky, cradling the secretary’s limp body in his arms, her face spattered with blood.
By the time then-U.S. Marine Corps Lt. B.G. Willison was finished, he had rescued three others from the debris of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.
On the afternoon of March 17, 1992, Israel’s embassy in Argentina was reduced to rubble by a powerful explosion that also destroyed a church and a nearby school. The blast killed 29 people – four Israelis and 25 Argentinians – and injured nearly 250.
A group tied to Hezbollah, a proxy for Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Two years later, Hezbollah struck Argentina’s Jewish community center, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), killing 85 people – the deadliest attack in Argentina’s history.
In 2017, 25 years after the attack on the embassy, Willison, now a retired U.S. Marine Corps captain, received AJC’s Moral Courage Award at the AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C. In his acceptance remarks, he reminded an AJC audience that an entire generation had not been born at the time of the attacks.
“Others may not remember that 29 innocent lives were taken, the embassy was completely destroyed and that almost 250 were injured,” he said. “Some may not remember that to date no one has been charged or prosecuted with this terrorist attack. I hope you will join me in being ambassadors of the memory to ensure we never forget the Israeli embassy bombing and ensure future generations know about this historical event, so we continue to work to stop terrorism.”
Grateful to Willison for saving her life, Kovensky does not want the memories of those who were not so fortunate to be lost.
“We became one 25 years ago because when we speak about the ‘terrorist attack,’ we are referring to names, histories and vivid memories -- people whose lives and futures were stolen from them,” Kovensky said. “We are talking about my dear friend Marcela, who was never able to meet her husband. We are talking about Mirta, who didn’t see her son, Pablo, graduate and form his beautiful family. Ruben, the taxi driver who was just driving past the building. Eliora, Raquel, Beatriz, Graciela, Mausi, Alexis, Father Juan Carlos from the Madre Admirable church, Miguel Angel, Eli.”
“Our challenge is to ensure that what happened in Argentina 25 years ago never happens again,” she said, “and to forge a more humane future in which everyone is vested.”
Willison has since reunited with the survivors he rescued. At a commemoration two years ago, the daughter of Jorge Cohen thanked him for rescuing her father, which made her life possible.
He’s also stayed connected to Kovensky.
“Truthfully, she’s done more for me than I could ever do for her,” he said, choking back tears. “A photo of Lea has been on my office wall for 25 years reminding me of what courage, resilience and strength looks like.”
The Unsolved Terror Attack At The Center Of Argentina's Political Crisis
Every week, we bring you one overlooked aspect of the stories that made news in recent days. You noticed the media forgot all about another story's basic facts? Tweet @TheWorldPost or let us know on our Facebook page.
On Jan. 18, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his luxury apartment in Buenos Aires with one bullet to the head. A handgun was found at the scene, but there was no suicide note and no gunpowder residue on the prosecutor's hands -- raising suspicions about whether Nisman had really turned the gun on himself, as authorities said after his body was found.
Nisman’s death came one day before he was scheduled to testify in a closed hearing about his investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. He was also supposed to speak about his recent claims that Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other top officials were involved in covering up Iran’s role in the bombing.
From the moment it launched, the investigation into the bombing was mired in scandal and controversy. In 2005, then President Nestor de Kirchner called the failure to properly investigate the crime "a national disgrace," and he appointed Nisman as the lead prosecutor to re-investigate the attack.
In this May 29, 2013 photo, Alberto Nisman talks to journalists in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
On July 18, 1994, a van filled with 600 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil exploded outside the building of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, a center serving Argentina’s Jewish community known by the initials of its Spanish name, AMIA. The seven-story building, which Israeli diplomats said was shoddily constructed, collapsed. The attack left 85 people dead and more than 300 wounded. Search crews searched through the rubble for days to find the bodies of the missing.
The New York Times reported in the days after the attack that at least 100 people were in the building at the time of the bombing, including young people registering for jobs and seniors collecting their pensions.
"Those first few moments were really terrible, of course. I think I couldn't say a word," Anita Weinstein, who was at AMIA the day of the bombing, told NPR this week. "I saw the destroyed building at my feet that was the worst moment," she added.
The AMIA tragedy rocked Argentina’s Jewish community, Latin America’s largest. The bombing was the deadliest terror attack in Argentina’s history. Many Jewish organizations had their offices in the building, and 100 years of archives of community records were destroyed. The basement of the building housed Project Witness, a research group that had documented how Nazi criminals escaped from Europe after WWII and found refuge in Argentina.
The attack also came amid turbulent times. Two years earlier, a bombing at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires left 30 people dead. In the month of the AMIA attack, the Israeli embassy in London was bombed as well. Just a day after the AMIA bombing, a Panamanian plane with 12 Jews aboard went down.
In the months after the attack, protesters gathered every morning outside the courthouse office of the prosecutor investigating the case. They carried signs that asked "How Long?" -- referring to the investigations into both the Buenos Aires embassy bombing and the AMIA attack.
Firefighters and rescue workers search through the rubble of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community center after a car bomb rocked the building, killing 85 people. (AP Photo/Alejandro Pagni)
But in the end, no one was ever put on trial for the deadly AMIA attack. Instead, the investigation was mired by scandals and mistakes. Controversies include a 2009 indictment against Argentina's former President Carlos Menem, for obstructing the investigation, as well as accusations that Juan Jose Galeano, a judge investigating the case before Nisman, was caught paying a suspect to accuse police officers of being involved.
Nisman, from his end, concluded in a report published in 2006 that Hezbollah agents who had received planning and financial support from Iran were behind the attacks. Nisman attempted to have several top Iranian official extradited to stand trial. Iran always denied involvement in the case, and Tehran refused Nisman's requests for extradition.
In 2013, Fernandez announced that Argentina and Iran would establish a "truth commission" to get to the bottom of the case. While Fernandez claimed the commission was Argentina's only hope of making any progress in the investigation, her decision was widely perceived as a move to appease Iran, as it would allow Tehran to review the Argentine investigation. Ruled unconstitutional by an Argentine court, the commission never saw the light of day. Nisman alleged in January 2015 that Fernandez's agreement to establish the truth commission had been part of a back-door deal with Tehran to secure cheap oil for the dwindling Argentine economy.
With Nisman dead, it is unclear how the investigation will continue. Weinstein, the survivor interviewed by NPR, said she isn't sure investigators will ever find out what really happened that day in 1994. "I hope so. I don't believe so," she said.
Thousands of people attend a ceremony Friday, July 17, 1998, held by relatives and friends of victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to mark the fourth anniversary of the bombing. (AP Photo/Gabriel Piko)