Will Argentina’s Jews Be Scapegoated?
“I ask myself how these wise and good-hearted people could have fallen into a trap and wound up on the same side as the country’s fascists,” wrote Meir Margalit, a coordinator of the Latin America desk as the Forum of Peace Organizations in Israel.
It was part of a conspiracy-filled article in Israel’s leftist Haaretz headlined, “Argentina’s Jews are serving the far right’s silent revolution.” The article is part of a wider campaign that is targeting Jews in Argentina, and scapegoating them for the country’s problems.
Just last September, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attacked Jewish organizations in her September UN speech, claiming they had “turned against her.” Now the lead prosecutor who dared to implicate the government in dealings with Iran that date back to the 1994 terror attack on the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, has been killed, and Kirchner and her allies are creating their own conspiracy theories.
How is it that the 180,000 Jews of Argentina – the largest community in Latin America – became a bogeyman, blamed for all manner of things in that country? According to Margalit, the Jewish community is “unwittingly playing [a role] in this despicable affair as it protests the deal Argentina signed with Iran.” The Jewish community is “infected by the obsession with Iran.” And this affair “reeks of a well-times right wing conspiracy, in cahoots with former police and army officials, to overthrow the government and destroy Argentina’s democracy.”
It is ironic that Jews are being blamed as part of a conspiracy of the right in Argentina, given that many of them were victims of the junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Researchers argued that as many as 3,000 Jews were victims of the dictatorship.
But there is a nefarious and strange relationship between Israel, Argentina, Iran and the issues facing Jews in Argentina. The Argentinian foreign minister Hector Timerman is Jewish and his father, Jacobo Timerman, was imprisoned by the junta and fled to Israel in 1979. But in 2013, Hector Timerman was the Argentinian point-man of President Kirchner’s decision to sign a deal with the Iranians to establish a commission to investigate the 1994 Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina bombing of the Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 85 people. Timerman was thus signing an agreement with the very country accused of being responsible for the mass murder of Jews in Argentina.
In a meeting with Israeli ambassador Dorit Shavit in 2013, Timerman is reported to have launched into a tirade, “Israel doesn’t speak in the name of the Jewish people…Israel’s desire to be involved in the issue only gives ammunition to anti-Semites who accuse Jews of dual loyalty.” Once again, “the Jews” were the problem.
Enter Alberto Nisman, the Argentinian special prosecutor investigating the AMIA bombing. He hammered away for a decade on the investigation, breaking details of Iranian involvement, including implicating Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in 2006. It is no surprise that in pointing fingers at Hezbollah operatives, and accusing the Argentinian government of cover-ups, Nisman was on a hit list – with numerous people seeming to benefit from his death.
On January 15, 2015, just before releasing his latest findings that were to point a finger at the Kirchner government, he was shot in the head. Journalist Damian Pachter, who broke the story of the death, described being followed and felt pressure from the government. In a harrowing escape, he fled Argentina for Israel and told his story in a January 25 column at Haaretz. “What I do know is that the country where I was born is not the happy place my Jewish grandparents used to tell me stories about,” he wrote.
The fact that a Jewish journalist was breaking the story of a Jewish prosecutor’s suspicious death, and that he was now in Israel deepened the conspiracy-burdened narrative. President Kirchner decided to blame her own intelligence agency, the Intelligence Secretariat, and dismantle it. Why is the President of a country acting as judge and jury and talking conspiracies? The Economist correctly noted: “What was missing from her soliloquy was sympathy for those bereaved by Mr Nisman’s death, and any assurance that the justice system would discover what had happened.”
Jews are paying the price for what should be a simple issue. If any other building had been targeted by terrorists and 85 people had been killed, it would not have taken 20 years to investigate – especially if a terrorist-linked country like Iran was suspected. Only because it was the Jewish community.
The investigation into Nisman’s death has become a source of media interest around the world. When Kirchner spoke at the UN in September of 2014, few listened carefully to her speech. She claimed that because she signed the memorandum of understanding with Iran “domestic and external demons had been set loose. The Jewish institutions that had accompanied us every year suddenly turned against us.”
She compared the role of Argentinian Jews to the “vulture funds who lobbied before the U.S. Congress.” Vultures? Demons? Instead of being viewed as victims, Argentinian Jews are viewed as a problem. They are blamed for “harming” Argentina’s relations with Iran, accused of being behind “right wing coup plots”or “dual loyalties,” and bashed for being “obsessed” and “infected” with wanting to know the truth about who murdered so many of them in 1994.
The case of Argentina shows how anti-Semites blame Jews for being victims; how the far-right persecuted them and the left blamed them; and that no matter what they do, they will continually be attacked unless they just remain silent.
Follow the author @Sfrantzman