Argentina-Israel Relations: Nazi Trials and Terrorist Tribulations

, July 20, 2017

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

No. 611     July 2017

    • Throughout the history of the Jewish State, Argentina-Israel relations have been marred by numerous trials and tribulations. These historical setbacks have included Israel’s capture of the notorious Nazi commander Adolph Eichmann in Buenos Aires, cases of blatant anti-Semitism, horrific acts of terrorism, the Argentinian government’s support for Israel’s adversaries, and its support of diplomatic measures to pressure Israel to make concessions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    • The Argentina-Israel relationship was negatively affected by the Eichmann operation in 1960. As a consequence, Argentina’s Jewish population endured rampant manifestations of anti-Semitism. In 1960, Israel became the subject of a United Nations Security Council debate initiated by Argentina.
    • The Jews of Argentina continually face anti-Semitism perpetrated by their fellow Argentines. The current president, Mauricio Macri, has begun to combat the residual anti-Semitism that had been tolerated if not encouraged by previous administrations.
    • The two deadliest terror attacks in Argentinian history were targeted directly against the Israeli/Jewish communities. The first attack was a March 1992 suicide bombing of the Israeli Embassy building in Buenos Aires. Two years later, in July 1994, another suicide bomb attack hit the Asociación Mutual Israelita, Argentina, known as the AMIA, Buenos Aires’ Jewish community headquarters.
    • The previous presidential administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) supported relations with Iran including direct talks and negotiations with terrorists who masterminded the two most lethal acts of terrorism in the history of Argentina. These conspicuous negotiations ultimately led to the signing of the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
    • President Kirchner’s support for the Palestinians against Israel may have garnered some consensus among Latin American countries, however, it did not result in significant breakthroughs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only consequence of Kirchner’s strategy was the undue application of international pressure on Israel. This weakened the Jewish State’s global standing and its relations with Argentina and with Latin America at large.

    Carlos Menem, the first Argentinian president to make a diplomatic visit to Israel, optimistically characterized his country’s relationship with the Jewish State in the following letter to President Ezer Weizman in 1999:

    Throughout all these years, our relations have multiplied, expanded and strengthened… In this, our governments responded to the aspirations of friendship and solidarity of our societies.

    Argentina gave refuge to hundreds of thousands of Jews coming from Europe and gave them the opportunity of being Argentinians who freely practice their faith, age-old culture, and traditions…

    There are today living in Israel tens of thousands of Argentinians who have decided to settle in the Promised Land…

    Our two peoples share a precious spiritual and ethical heritage. The majority of our people profess their faith in the same God. Both countries are democracies governed by the rule of law, and, no less important, are close friends.

    This salute that I send to you on behalf of the people and government of Argentina should be understood as a friendly embrace for the government and the entire people of the State of Israel. God willing, in the next 50 years, our friendship and cooperation will grow, and our relations will be fruitful for the benefit of the whole world.1

    Since assuming the office of president on December 10, 2015, Mauricio Macri, of the center-right political coalition, Cambiemos, has strived to revitalize the occasionally-strained relations between the two democratic nations. His efforts have largely restored hope on the part of the Argentinian pro-Israel community that per Menem’s sentiment, Argentina and Israel’s “friendship and cooperation” would grow.”2

    It is of personal importance to me that Macri’s efforts succeed due to my close family connections to Argentina. My mother, Gabriela Rozanski, was born and raised in Buenos Aires. She spent her childhood years in the neighborhood of Villa Crespo, home to many synagogues, Jewish day schools, and youth movements. Mrs. Rozanski, who is, therefore, a product of the Argentinian Jewish community, went on to become a lifelong educator of Judaic studies. Through my mother, I have a close relationship with several Argentinian Jewish families, and I, therefore, can identify with their struggle for successful community development and security.

    The Kindling of a Friendship

    Diplomatic ties were initially established on May 31, 1949, by the President of Argentina, Juan Perón, and the President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. After that, with the appointment of Pablo Manguel, the head of the Organización Israelita Argentina (OIA), as Argentina’s ambassador to Israel, Argentina became the first Latin American country with an ambassador in the newly-created Jewish State. Correspondingly, Israel named Yaacov Tsur as its representative in Buenos Aires.3

    Strong bonds between Argentina and the Jewish people began to solidify during decades prior to the 1949 diplomatic opening with the Jewish State. In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Argentina kept its door open to Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Europe. Between 1918 and 1943, approximately 103,000 European Jews were granted entry into Argentina.4 A long-term friendship was thereby kindled.

    Operation Eichmann

    Perhaps the best known tragic chapter of the Argentina-Israel connection is the hunt for the infamous German Nazi SS lieutenant-colonel and the main architect of the “Final Solution,” Otto Adolf Eichmann. After Germany’s defeat in World War II, Eichmann, alias Ricardo Klement, obtained a landing permit for Argentina as well as a false ID. “Klement” was able to flee to Argentina after the Red Cross issued a passport to the monstrous mastermind who had coordinated the mass deportation and murder of millions of European Jews.5

    Eichmann arrived in the Argentinian capital on July 14, 1950. Shockingly, despite having been a prominent Nazi, he found employment (a lucrative managerial post at Mercedes-Benz) and was able to live comfortably with his family in Argentina’s Tucumán Province. The furtive life of Ricardo Klement proved to be short-lived. Simon Wiesenthal and his band of Nazi hunters began to track down Eichmann in 1953.

    A series of consequential actions taken by these Nazi hunters enabled the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, to successfully capture Adolf Eichmann near his home in Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960. Unbeknownst to local government authorities, Eichmann was smuggled out of Argentina aboard an El Al plane. By May 22, he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.6

    The forged passport Adolf Eichmann

    The forged passport Adolf Eichmann used to enter Argentina in 1950. (Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum)

    The Argentina-Israel relationship was negatively affected by Operation Eichmann. Argentina’s Jewish population endured rampant anti-Semitism, and Israel became the subject of a United Nations Security Council debate initiated by Argentina. After a decade of friendship, Argentina accused Israel of “violating their sovereign rights” in the Nazi’s abduction. The UN Security Council Resolution 138 of June 23, 1960, concurred with Argentina’s accusation and demanded Israel pay reparations. Ultimately, this disagreement was resolved through negotiation and the eventual release of a joint-statement which included an Israeli admission of guilt.7

    This affair is one in a series of clashes between Argentina, its Jewish community, and the State of Israel. Argentine Jews, who now number 230,000,8 have been the target of a series of hate crimes in their Latin American homeland.

    Residual Anti-Semitism

    The República Argentina, whose motto “En Unión y Libertad,” means “In Unity and Freedom,” is the South American country with the largest Jewish population. Ironically, the Jews of Argentina continually face locally perpetrated acts of anti-Semitism.

    One such incident that received considerable attention worldwide was the 2009 desecration of 58 graves in one of the main Jewish cemeteries of Argentina, La Tablada. This case is notable in that among the graves that were desecrated were those of eight victims of the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA). According to a 2012 report by the Centro de Estudios Sociales (CES) and Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) entitled, “Information about Anti-Semitism in Argentina,” the perpetrators were motivated by “negative stereotypes of Jews controlling business interests and dominating the world through capitalism, as well as Israel’s affiliation with the United States.”9

    The president of the DAIA, Aldo Donzis told the BBC Mundo, “It is a crime that has the severity of having occurred in a sacred place, and this violation is deeply condemnable not only for the Jewish community but for the whole society.”10

    One particular period in Argentinian history during which Jews were inordinately targeted was the 1976 – 1983 military junta rule. This dictatorship named the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, or the National Reorganization Process, overthrew President Isabel Perón (Juan Perón’s wife who succeeded her husband as president of Argentina following his death in 1974) and retained power for seven years. The Junta Militar was notorious for abducting political dissidents and keeping them in detention centers. These abductees, who came to be known as the Desaparecidos, or disappeared persons, underwent brutal interrogation and ruthless torture sessions that often led to their deaths.11 The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, created by President Raúl Alfonsín who ruled Argentina following the collapse of the military dictatorship, determined the number of desaparecidos to be 8,961. Human rights organizations contend that the number is approximately 30,000.12

    Tragically, while Argentinian Jews represented between 0.8 and 1.2 percent of the population in the 1970s, they accounted for 5 to 12 percent of the disappeared persons. Of the 8,961 victims documented in CONADEP’s 1984 report, Nunca Mas, or Never Again, 1,117 were Jewish. Once in captivity, Jewish prisoners were singled out for especially harsh treatment. This is a consequence of the “Nazi ideology that permeated the military and security forces during the country’s dictatorship.”13 DAIA reporting shows that “just as in the Nazi concentration camps, political prisoners in Argentina were assigned numbers, stripped of their names and humiliated, and that after they were killed, their bodies were hidden.” Furthermore, recordings of Hitler’s speeches were played during torture sessions.

    Daniel Fernández, a survivor of a junta detention center, recounted that “Jews were subjected to an especially cruel and sadistic form of torture.” including incessant beating, painting swastikas on their bodies, and the infamous “rectoscope,” which consisted of inserting a tube with a rat crawling through it into a prisoner’s anus. Vile torture methods and other tactics used by the military regime were detailed by Jewish Argentine author, Jacobo Timerman in his 1981 memoir, “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.” He wrote of the virulent anti-Semitism that characterized the junta era as well as about his own imprisonment, during which he was subject to electric shock and solitary confinement. Timerman recalled that Jews were accused of attempting to orchestrate a Zionist takeover of Argentina and hence were treated like animals. Prison guards went as far as to demand that Jewish prisoners mimic dogs by getting down on their hands and knees and barking.14

    The barbaric treatment of Jews by the military is a harrowing and dark memory for the Jews of Argentina. Nazi influences were evident in the ideology and actions of the regime. These frightful episodes reminded Jews of the horrors of the Holocaust and gave them a sense of how it might have felt to be a prisoner in an SS camp. Lillian Paley, a former colleague of my mother’s at the Tarbut school and current Jewish history teacher in Buenos Aires, recalls that a common phrase used by Jewish community members during the military rule was “hay que tener el pasaporte listo,” which translates, “You always need to have your passport ready to go.”

    Significant improvement has been made in the abatement of anti-Semitism since the fall of the fascistic military junta. This process of amelioration began immediately after President Raúl Alfonsín took over in 1983. He created the commission above to investigate the fate of the Desaparecidos and appropriately elected Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer (a prominent critic of the military regime’s human rights violations who bravely visited Jewish prisoners in jail) as a member.15 Nevertheless, the Hitleresque regime of the 1970s will forever be a blemish on Argentina’s relationship with its Jewish citizens.

    Evidence that Argentinian Jews continue to have cause for concern was reported in a 2015 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey that reported that a fourth of Argentina’s 28,280,537 adults “harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.”16 Furthermore, the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) noted with alarm that there was an approximate 55 percent increase in acts of anti-Semitism in the last year. The DAIA Center of Social Studies received 478 complaints of hate crimes against Argentine Jews, the third highest number on record since 1998.

    Public anti-Semitism reappeared during the Kirchner era, this time stemming from the far-left ideology of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner as opposed to the far-right ideology of the military junta. A notable spike in anti-Semitism occurred after President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner tweeted in 2015 that Argentina’s Jewish leadership was engaged in a “global modus operandi” (a famous anti-Semitic conspiracy that Jews are plotting to take over the world).17 This tweet was characteristic of Kirchner’s career-long, covert perpetuation of anti-Semitism. Thankfully, her successor, Mauricio Macri began to combat the residual anti-Semitism of both the previous Kirchner administrations and the abhorrent military dictatorship of the 70s.

    Terrorist Tribulations

    Given the long record of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in Argentina, it is no coincidence that the two deadliest terror attacks in Argentinian history were targeted directly against their Israeli/Jewish communities. The first attack was a March 1992 suicide bombing of the Israeli Embassy building in Buenos Aires. Two years later, in July 1994, there was another suicide bomb attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, known as the AMIA, Buenos Aires’ Jewish community headquarters.

    The method of attack in both the 1992 and 1994 bombings was the crashing and detonating of a van loaded with explosives into the targeted buildings. The Israeli Embassy bombing resulted in the destruction of the embassy building as well as a nearby church and school. Tragically, the bomber killed 29 people and wounded 242.18

    The Israeli embassy building in Buenos Aires after the 1992 bombing.

    The Israeli embassy building in Buenos Aires after the 1992 bombing.

    On July 18, 1994, the deadliest bombing in the history of the country was carried out against the AMIA. The suicide bomber drove his explosive-filled Renault van into the building, killing 85 people and wounding over 300.19

    The AMIA building in Buenos Aires after the 1994 bombing.

    The AMIA building in Buenos Aires after the 1994 bombing. (La Nación)

    Numerous investigations were launched to determine the responsibility and motives in these two attacks. The inquiries were conducted both independently and jointly by the Argentinian government, Israeli Mossad agents, and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Iran and Hizbullah-affiliated Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) claimed responsibility for the 1992 embassy bombing, and the investigation’s findings concurred with this claim.20 Another conclusion of this study was that Israel’s 1992 assassination of Sayed Abbas al-Musawi, Hizbullah’s Secretary General, was a motive for the attack.21

    In the years that followed, investigators uncovered further details that eventually led to arrest warrants. They determined that the bombing was planned in the “Triple Frontier” region (an area where the borders of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet), a location heavily populated by Muslims.22 Another revelation was that both Iranian and Hizbullah leadership knew of the attack during its planning stages and were complicit in it. As such, the government of Argentina issued an arrest warrant for a senior member of the IJO and Hizbullah, Imad Fayez Mughniyeh in 1999.23

    The findings of the many investigations into the 1994 AMIA bombing are less clear-cut. The many unanswered questions remaining from this period are attributed to the incompetence of the investigation committees and the fact that no government or organization has claimed direct responsibility for the attack. Due to these complexities, investigations that began under the presidency of Carlos Menem were continued during the presidencies of Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

    Despite the decades of extensive international detective efforts, to date, no suspects have been convicted. Expressing his frustration with the lack of progress in securing convictions, President Néstor Kirchner (served 2007-2010) called the investigations a “national disgrace.”24 The unconfirmed findings of the Argentinian government at the time pointed to Hizbullah and Iran as the perpetrators of the AMIA bombing. In 2007, Argentina released a wanted list of six Iranians whom they believed to be responsible: Imad Mughniyah (The same man who was issued an arrest warrant for his connection to the 1992 embassy bombing. The two attacks are suspected to be linked.), Ali Fallahijan, Mohsen Rabbani, Ahmad Reza Asghari, Ahmad Vahidi, Mohsen Rezaee.25 Hizbullah and Iran adamantly refuted the charges.

    An internal concern about the case continues to be litigated, debated and fought over. The pressing question is whether the government of Argentina was involved in a cover-up of the attacks on behalf of the Iranians.

    Cozying Up to Terrorists

    The topic of Argentina’s cover-up in the 1994 AMIA bombing is described at length in a 2016 Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ article by Gustavo Daniel Perednik, an Argentinian-born Israeli author, educator, and member of the JCPA, entitled “Iranian Terror and Argentinian Justice: The Case of Alberto Nisman, the Prosecutor Who Knew Too Much.

    Alberto Nisman

    Alberto Nisman (Infobae)

    Nisman and Perednik addressing the Jerusalem Center in 2007.

    Nisman and Perednik addressing the Jerusalem Center in 2007.

    In the chapter, “The Collusion of the Government of Argentina with the Iranian Perpetrators,” Perednik described the partnership of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Together, these dictators were able to induce and convince Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to make a secret deal with Iran in 2011.

    Perednik explained that this deal “would solve Argentina’s energy crisis by receiving cheaper oil in payment for wheat, along with plenty of cash.” In return, Iran was assured that the Argentinian wanted list against Iranian terrorists would be withdrawn. Furthermore, “the plan was to set up a fictitious ‘Commission of Truth,’” with the task of investigating the 1992 and 1994 terror attacks. However, its true purpose “had nothing to do with exposing the facts,” but instead “was to bury the case by spreading false information and fomenting confusion.”26

    The Kirchner administration’s relations with Iran included direct talks and negotiations with terrorists who masterminded the two most lethal acts of terrorism in the history of Argentina. These conspicuous negotiations ultimately led to the signing of the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Salehi (left), and Argentinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Héctor Timerman, signing the MOU in 2013.

    Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Salehi (left), and Argentinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Héctor Timerman, signing the MOU in 2013.

    After the “Commission of Truth,” a subsequent contract was agreed to in 2011 by both governments which “ostensibly had the two countries jointly investigate the AMIA bombing,” thereby “helping Iran cover up its role in the bombing.”27

    If Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s history of anti-Semitic remarks were not enough, her shameful 2013 Memorandum leaves little doubt about her disdain for the Jews and more favorable disposition towards sworn enemies of Israel. She was effectively responsible for allowing Iranian terrorists to evade prosecution. Kirchner’s government went as far as to work hand-in-glove with murderers to cover up their deplorable actions in exchange for political and economic gain.

    Another sinister event related to Argentinian government collusion with Iran is what has come to be known as the Nisman Affair. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman personally investigated the case of the president and minister of foreign affairs’ cover-up of Hizbullah and Iranian actions. He was a day away from presenting a guilty verdict to congress when he was found dead in his apartment. Whether President Kirchner “wanted him gone” remains a contentious subject of speculation.

    Cristina Kirchner is not the only Argentinian head of state suspected of supporting terrorists before, during, and after the ’92 and ’94 attacks. Carlos Menem, President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, was in office during the two bombings. He too was accused by Nisman of covering up the actions of local Iranian-linked terrorists. Menem was born to Syrian nationalists from Yabroud, Syria. The local terrorists may have been distant Syrian relatives of President Menem. Menem, due to his personal relationship with these terrorists from Syria, allegedly covered up their participation in the AMIA attack. Furthermore, as a former Iranian intelligence agent claims, Iran paid Menem 10 million dollars to cover up its role in the attack.28 These actions by the Argentinian president were responsible for opening the door to Iranian influence in South America.

    The Kirchner Approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

    Argentina’s political alliances with Israel’s adversaries as well as its longstanding societal tendency toward anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have compromised its political, societal, and economic relationships with the State of Israel.

    At the outset, the Argentina-Israel relationship was one of mutual respect, understanding, and unabashed cordiality. As was noted in the section, “The Kindling of a Friendship,” on May 31, 1949, Argentinian President Juan Perón and Israeli President Chaim Weizmann daringly initiated this positive relationship.

    Carlos Saúl Menem, President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, carried the relationship forward by becoming the first Argentinian leader to make a state visit to Israel. During his visit, Menem met with his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the following “Summary of a meeting between Prime Minister Shamir and President Menem of Argentina- 2 October 1991:”

    President Menem was the first Argentinian president to visit Israel. His Arab descent and his very pro-Israel feelings made the visit an emotional one for the guest and his hosts. Israel recalled the warm friendship and close support it had received from Argentina in 1947 and the fact that the latter was one of the first nations to recognize its independence and enter into full diplomatic relations. Argentina has consistently supported Israel in the matter of repealing the Zionism-racism resolution of 1975. On this occasion, Israel sought the help of President Menem on the issue of the emigration of the hostage Syrian Jewish community.

    In a meeting between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Argentine President Carlos Menem today (Wednesday), 2.10.91, the warm relations prevailing between the two countries was emphasized. Shamir thanked the visitor for the strong feelings of friendship toward Israel culminating in the President’s visit to Israel and expressed the hope that relations in more spheres would be cultivated.

    Menem expressed the Argentine people’s fondness for the Jewish people and its leaders and pointed out that Argentina seeks to advance peace in the region. He added that in addition to the political sphere, Argentina is interested in expanding trade ties and scientific and technological contacts via a joint committee of the two countries as well as ministerial level meetings.

    Shamir thanked Menem for his support for Israel during the Gulf War as well as for Argentina’s unequivocal stand in the U.N. denouncing the miserable resolution equating Zionism with racism. Shamir noted that Israel could be aided by Argentina and President Menem and his unique background in the search for ways to overcome the causes of hostility in the region and creating a new atmosphere in which to seek peace. Shamir explained in detail to the visitor the advances in the peace process and the issues of the prisoners and missing as well as the condition of Syrian Jewry was also discussed. Menem promised to raise these issues during his upcoming visits to Egypt and Tunisia and his future visit to Syria.29

    Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina from 2007 to 2015, infamously compromised the bilateral relations between her country and Israel. Kirchner’s actions in response to Iran’s involvement in the 1992 and 1994 terror attacks in Argentina were morally reprehensible. Kirchner and her Foreign Affairs Minister conducted transactions with terrorists. Conspiring with Iran further opened the door to Iranian influence in South America. Kirchner’s malevolent maneuvering has caused Israel anxiety over Iran’s fostering of anti-Israel radicalization of impressionable youth in South America. Finally, in 2015, a significant blow was dealt to Argentina-Israel ties, when Kirchner, in conspiring with Iranian terrorists, “intimated that Israeli agents were involved in the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA center.”30

    Kirchner’s cover-up of Iran and Hizbullah’s atrocities has not put Argentina in a position to positively contribute to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The former president further stymied peace efforts when she announced in 2010 that Argentina intends to join a long list of Latin American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador, in “recognizing an independent Palestinian state.” This uncompromising, one-sided move incurred the anger of pro-Israel Argentinians and Israelis.

    Palestinian President Abbas Meets With Cristina Kirchner

    President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (left) meeting with President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (right) in 2010. (Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)

    Immediately after Argentina’s 2010 Palestinian State endorsement, Israel called the decision “regrettable.” The spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, said further that “if Argentina had wanted to make a real contribution to peace, there are other ways of doing that other than by a purely rhetorical gesture.” Meanwhile, the Argentinian representative, Minister Timerman, commented that theirs was an effort to “reach a fair, peaceful and definitive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”31

    On September 25, 2012, during the 67th Session of the General Debate in the United Nations General Assembly, President Kirchner reiterated her administration’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating that there is a “need to recognize Palestine as a State.” “Israel must accept the 1967 borders,” she declared, and “the situation has dragged on for decades without any constructive progress.”32

    President Kirchner’s main action in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians came in 2012 when she met “an Israeli-Palestinian delegation of the Peace NGO Forum” and announced that “Argentina will spearhead the Latin American role in reinvigorating the peace process.”33 Kirchner’s siding with the Palestinians against Israel may have garnered some consensus among Latin American countries. However, this did not result in significant breakthroughs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only consequence of Kirchner’s strategy was the undue application of international pressure on Israel. This weakened the Jewish State’s global standing, its relations with Argentina and with Latin America at large.

    Macri Salvó el Día

    Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s race for president on November 22, 2015. The next day, the Jerusalem Post declared that the “Macri Victory in Argentina Is Unequivocally Good for Israel and the Jews.” President Macri steadfastly began to reverse the mistakes of his predecessor that put Argentina-Israel relations in jeopardy.

    Atop the newly-elected president’s to do list was to cancel the malicious Memorandum of Understanding that Kirchner signed with Iran in 2013. To the delight of pro-Israel Argentinians and Israelis, Macri’s Justice Minister swiftly brought about the legal defeat of the MOU. The victory took place in the same month as Macri’s inauguration; a signal that the Argentina-Israel relationship was in the process of being rekindled.

    In the spirit of this rekindling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the following statement: “This is a welcome change of direction, and I hope we will see a significant improvement of Argentina-Israeli relations as well as a change for the better in relations with other countries in South America in the coming years.”34

    Macri’s bold action had the immediate effect of decreasing Iranian influence in Argentina. The consequence of this decrease was a restoration of bilateralism with Israel. In fact, Israel had already spotted the “change of direction” that Netanyahu welcomed on the horizon in 2014. Then-Mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, visited the State of Israel for the 29th Israel International Mayors Conference on June 15, 2014.35 During his trip, Macri set out on a mission to heal the wounds of betrayal.

    Tragically, on the same day that 20 mayors arrived in Israel, three Yeshiva students, Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, and Naftali Fraenkel, were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on the West Bank. All participating mayors, including Mauricio Macri, signed a letter condemning the horrendous act of terrorism and calling for the return of the innocent teenagers. The letter read, “We were all saddened and deeply disappointed to learn of the boys’ abduction. Kidnapping, as well as taking hostages, is a violation of international law…It is our firm belief that at no time and under no circumstances should children become the victims of such an inhumane and unjust way of action.”36 The photograph below, provided by the Office of the Prime Minister, shows the mayors (Mayor Macri is pictured to the right of PM Netanyahu) presenting its letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

    Prime Minister Netanyahu with visiting delegation of mayors

    Prime Minister Netanyahu with visiting delegation of mayors, including Macri (to Netanyahu’s right) in 2014. (Chaim Tzach/GPO)

    In a meeting hosted by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR), Mayor Macri spoke about his identification with the kidnapped teens. He described his traumatic experience of being kidnapped for 12 days at 12 years of age, by officers of the Policía Federal Argentina (PFA). His father, the wealthy Argentinian businessman, Francisco Macri, was forced to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom. Understanding the nightmarish situation that the victims’ families were in, Macri offered them his sincere, heartfelt prayers.37

    Mayor Macri continued to heal wounds by offering his support to Israel in the fight against terrorism. In the same 2014 visit, Macri told journalists that “Israeli suffering has to be understood. From afar, it is easy to give advice, but you have to be in Israel to really understand the situation.”38 These assuaging sentiments were positively received by Israel. However, Macri’s true impact on Argentina-Israel relations was made once he was elected to the powerful status of president.

    Now-President Macri, when asked about the devastating 1994 AMIA bombing, expressed his determination to “bring what happened to light.”39 Furthermore, a year after Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death, President Macri hosted Lara and Kala, Nisman’s daughters, at his personal weekend home. The meeting included a prayer in the brave prosecutor’s memory, led by Argentinian Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff.40

    On July 18, 2016, the Argentinian President, in stark contrast with former President Cristina Kirchner attended a remembrance service marking the 22nd anniversary of the AMIA attack. He left a wreath in front of the Jewish community center building and offered consolation to the bereaved.

    President Macri at the 2016 ceremony outside the AMIA building.

    President Macri (bottom right) standing among the bereaved at the 2016 ceremony outside the AMIA building. (World Jewish Congress)

    This was the first time in five years that an Argentinian head of state attended the AMIA remembrance ceremony.41 In keeping with this determination to rekindle the Argentina-Israel relationship, President Macri met surviving victims of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing. He arranged for the group of 50 survivors to meet him at his official residence. Following that meeting, a ceremony was held to mark the 25th anniversary of “what still is the deadliest attack on an Israeli diplomatic mission.”42

    If these conciliatory actions did not fully restore the trust of the Jewish community of Argentina and Israelis, then President Macri’s cabinet appointments, Supreme Court judge’s nomination, and his fruitful meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have moved the restoration process forward dramatically.

    President Macri broke historical precedent when he offered a ministerial role to a rabbi. The only other place in the world where a rabbi has ever filled such a position is in the Jewish State. Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a 53-year-old Conservative rabbi, was appointed Argentina’s Environment Minister. Rabbi Bergman had been a member of Macri’s Republican Proposal party (one of three parties to merge into the Cambiemos coalition in the 2015 presidential election) for eight years. He also served as the rabbi of the Templo Libertad in Buenos Aires. Of paramount importance to the pro-Israel community of Argentina is that Bergman is a staunch Zionist. The following public statement of his revealed as much: “I’m always concerned with Israel’s security, and at the same time admire Israel for its progress and development in the fields of science and technology.”

    Sergio Bergman

    Rabbi Sergio Bergman, Minister of Environment

    Claudio Avruj, former Executive Director of the DAIA and former Director of the Holocaust Museum in Buenos Aires, was chosen by Macri to serve as a sub-Minister for Human Rights. The new Jewish Minister has many long-held friendships in Argentina’s Jewish community and in Israel.43 The Jews of Argentina were thrilled with Macri’s appointment of two men who hold the fate of the Jewish people and State of Israel dear. Macri did not stop there. The President sent a third signal that the anti-Jewish Kirchner era is over by nominating Carlos Rosenkrantz to be the first Jew on Argentina’s Supreme Court.44

    The ultimate test of Macri’s sincerity in renewing the bond between Argentina and Israel is whether he connects with the Israeli government and people. While President Kirchner chose a path of discord, Macri is determined to go down the road of restitution. The first turn down this road was made when Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned then-President-elect Macri to congratulate him on his victory. The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that “Netanyahu told Macri that he expects relations between Israel and Argentina to strengthen.”45

    The next wide “turn” was made during the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The two world leaders, Macri and Netanyahu, met with one another to discuss the expectations mentioned in the PM’s congratulatory phone call in 2015. This meeting was another success in the mission to heal the wounds from years of betrayal. Following the encounter, Netanyahu sent a message of hope and unity by saying, “Macri told me unequivocally: ‘We are starting a new slate with Israel. Our interests and values make this partnership necessary and therefore we are beginning a new era.”

    Modi Ephraim, head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Latin America and Caribbean division, emphasized Netanyahu’s message in the following statement of his own: “From the point of view of Netanyahu, Argentina is very important today. With all the positive changes that are happening on the continent, we believe that Argentina, with Macri’s government, will be able to play an important leadership role.”46

    President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri with Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

    President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri (left) meeting with Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Presidencia de la Nación Argentina)

    Due to Macri’s initiative, Argentina and Israel have made significant progress in overcoming shared trials and tribulations. A new global partnership has been established between the two nations. Carla Dulfano, a classmate of my mother’s at the Bialik primary school and now a Jewish music instructor and children’s author in Buenos Aires, expressed that there is “indeed a renewed feeling of hope among Argentinian Jews in the viability of this partnership.”

    Addressing delegates of the World Jewish Congress in Buenos Aires on March 15, 2016, President Mauricio Macri invoked the “historic ties” between his country and Israel. He expressed his desire to “boost our relationship in order for us to work closer than ever in order to defend peace throughout the world.”

    World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder responded to Macri in kind, saying “We believe you. We trust you.”47

    For the sake of world peace and the sustainability of the renewed Argentina-Israel relationship, I hope that Mr. Lauder’s faith in the leadership of Mauricio remains viable. After decades of sorrow and disgrace, I join my Argentinian family and friends in their spirited declaration of optimism: “¡Macri Salvó el Día!” “Macri has Saved The Day!”

    * * *

    Notes

    1 Communicated by Foreign Ministry Spokesman, “Fifty Years of Israel-Argentina Relations,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 31, 1999,

    http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/1999/Pages/Fifty%20Years%20of%20Israel-Argentina%20Relations.aspx.

    2 Herb Keinon, “MACRI VICTORY IN ARGENTINA IS UNEQUIVOCALLY GOOD FOR ISRAEL AND THE JEWS,” The Jerusalem Post, November 23, 2015.

    3 Raanan Rein, “Argentine Jews or Jewish Argentines? Essays on Ethnicity, Identity, and Diaspora,” (Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2010), 112.

    4 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “REFUGE IN LATIN AMERICA,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007824.

    5 Cesarani, David, “Eichmann: His Life and Crimes,” (London, England: Vintage, 2005), 207-209.

    6 Levy, Alan, “Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File,” (London, England: Robinson Publishing, 2002).

    7 Lippmann, Matthew, “The trial of Adolf Eichmann and the protection of universal human rights under international law,” Houston Journal of International Law, vol. 5 (Autumn 1982), 1-34.

    8 Congreso Judio Latinoamericano, “Argentina,” COMUNIDADES JUDÍAS LATINOAMERICANAS, http://www.congresojudio.org.ar/comunidades_detalle.php?id=1.

    9 Ibid, Congreso.

    10 Valeria Perasso, “¿Crece el antisemitismo en Argentina?,” BBC Mundo, September 15, 2009.

    11 Ibid, Perasso.

    12 Truth Commission: Argentina, “National Commission on the Disappeared,” December 16, 1983.

    13 Uki Go-I, “Jews targeted in Argentina’s dirty war,” The Guardian, March 24, 1999.

    14 Marcela Valente, “RIGHTS: Argentina’s Jewish ‘Desaparecidos’,” Inter Press Service, November 23, 2007.

    15 Noga Tarnopolsky, “Rabbi, Magician and Savior,” Haaretz, October 4, 2003.

    16 Anti-Defamation League, “An Index of Koran,” The ADL Global 100, http://global100.adl.org/#country/argentina/2014.

    17 Hattie Webb, “Study: Reports of Koran In Argentina Have Doubled Since 2014,” the Bubble, June 24, 2016.

    18 Office of the Secretary of State and Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Latin America Overview,” Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1992, April 30, 1993.

    19 “Caso AMIA: los fiscales dicen haber identificado al autor del atentado,” Clarín, November 10, 2005.

    20 Matthew Levitt, “Hizbullah’s 1992 Attack in Argentina Is a Warning for Modern-Day Europe,” The Atlantic, March 19, 2013.

    21 William R. Long, “Islamic Jihad Says It Bombed Embassy; Toll 21,” The Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1992.

    22 William R. Long, “Islamic Jihad Says It Bombed Embassy; Toll 21,” The Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1992.

    23 Gus Martin, “The Sage Encyclopedia of Terrorism,” (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc., 2011), 403.

    24 Associated Press in Buenos Aires, “Former Argentine president on trial over the Jewish center terrorist attack,” The Guardian, August 6, 2015.

    25 International Police Organization, “INTERPOL Executive Committee takes decision on AMIA Red Notice dispute,” Media Release, March 15, 2007.

    26 Gustavo D. Perednik, “Iranian Terror and Argentinian Justice: The Case of Alberto Nisman, the Prosecutor Who Knew Too Much,” The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, January 18, 2016.

    27 Toby Dershowitz, “Argentina is still helping Iran cover up its role in the bombing of a Jewish community center 21 years ago,” Business Insider, July 18, 2015.

    28 “Former Argentine President Menem goes on trial over the cover-up of AMIA bombing,” The World Jewish Congress, August 6, 2015.

    29 “Summary of a meeting between Prime Minister Shamir and President Menem of Argentina, 2 October 1991,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, October 2, 1991, http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/MFADocuments/Yearbook8/Pages/234%20Summary%20of%20a%20meeting%20between%20Prime%20Minister%20Sh.aspx.

    30 Bernard Reich and David H. Goldberg, “Historical Dictionary of Israel,” (London, England: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2016), 53.

    31 Bernard Reich and David H. Goldberg, “Historical Dictionary of Israel,” (London, England: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2016), 53.

    32 General Assembly of the United Nations, “Argentina- H.E. Mrs. Cristina Fernández, President,” Statement Summary, General Debate of the 67th Session, September 25, 2012, https://gadebate.un.org/en/67/argentina.

    33 Akiva Eldar, “Argentine President Calls for Regional Involvement in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Haaretz, February 11, 2012.

    34 JTA, “New Argentina government voids pact with Iran on AMIA bombing,” The Times of Israel, December 14, 2015.

    35 “29th Israel International Mayors Conference opens in Jerusalem,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 15, 2014, http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2014/Pages/29th-Israel-International-Mayors-Conference-opens-15-Jun-2014.aspx.

    36 Victoria Kezra, “FOREIGN MAYORS SIGN LETTER CONDEMNING KIDNAPPINGS,” The Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2014.

    37 Green Fay Cashman, “BUENOS AIRES MAYOR IDENTIFIES WITH ISRAELI TEENS AS FORMER KIDNAPPING VICTIM,” The Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2014.

    38 Tal Shalev, “Israeli hopes buoyed by Argentinians’ choice of new leader,” i24NEWS, November 14, 2015.

    39 The Times of Israel Staff and AP, “Argentine president ‘determined’ to solve Nisman case,” The Times of Israel, March 17, 2016.

    40 “Argentine president receives Nisman’s daughters on the anniversary of his death,” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 17, 2016.

    41 “Argentinian President Macri attends AMIA bombing ceremony,” The World Jewish Congress, July 18, 2016.

    42 Raphael Ahren and JTA, “Argentina, Israelis mark 25 years since the attack on Buenos Aires embassy,” The Times of Israel, March 20, 2017.

    43 Itamar Eichner, “New Argentine president expected to improve ties with Israel,” Ynetnews, November 26, 2015.

    44 “First Jewish justice appointed to Argentina’s Supreme Court,” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 21, 2016.

    45 Barak Ravid, The Associated Press and Reuters, “Netanyahu Congratulates Argentine President-elect Macri,” Haaretz, November 26, 2015.

    46 Herald Staff, “Netanyahu praises Macri meeting,” The Buenos Aires Herald, January 25, 2016.

    47 “Argentine president, addressing Jewish group, vows progress on AMIA probe,” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 16, 2016.

About Avraham Spraragen

Avraham B. Spraragen, a student at Cornell University, was an intern at the Jerusalem Center in Spring 2017.