Argentina experienced a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents in 1999 compared with previous years. Nevertheless, there were several serious incidents, including the planting of explosive charges at the entrance of two Jewish homes, cemetery desecrations and several anonymous false bomb threats to Jewish institutions. The judge in charge of investigating the AMIA bombing stated that the search for the plotters would continue.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
With about 200,000 Jews out of a total population of over 35 million, Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America. The great majority of Jews live in Buenos Aires and its environs; however, there are also sizable communities in Rosario, Córdoba, and Santa Fe. Most Argentine Jews are the descendants of nineteenth and twentieth century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East.
The Jewish community maintains many educational, cultural and religious institutions, including a Hebrew and a Yiddish press, publishing houses and an educational system from kindergarten through university. The leading Jewish organization is DAIA (Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas), which represents communities and organizations to the authorities and is responsible for safeguarding the rights of members. AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) is the main organization representing the Ashkenazi community. The Sephardi communities have separate institutions. The Vaad ha-Kehilot is the umbrella organization of all the communities in the provinces.
EXTREMIST ORGANIZATIONS AND ANTI-SEMITIC ACTIVITY
Neo-Nazi individuals and groups continued to operate openly in Argentina, supported by a wide circle of sympathizers. One of the two main nationalistic right-wing parties, Partido Nuevo Triunfo (New Triumph Party -- PNT), is led by the well-known neo-Nazi Alejandro Biondini, who has been active since the 1980s. He served a jail term in 1996, under Anti-Discrimination Law No. 25.592, for displaying a swastika on the cover of his publication Libertad de Opinión. In 1998 Biondini put this publication on the Internet, becoming one of the first neo-Nazis in Argentina to disseminate his ideas via this medium.
Alejandro Ivan Franze, leader of the Partido Nuevo Orden Social Patriótico (New Order Social Patriotic Party -- PNOSP), formed in 1996, has succeeded in attracting nationalistic right-wing figures from smaller groups to his organization. The party, which is basically a skinhead group, aspires to participate in national elections. At present, it organizes military-style parades and gatherings, for example, on so-called Sovereignty Day, commemorating the Falklands-Malvinas war, when marchers sport neo-Nazi uniforms and symbols and perform the fascist salute. The police have not, so far, intervened.
At a meeting of neo-Nazis on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday (20 April), the formation of a new group, the Brown Shirts, led by Alejandro Biondini of the PNT, was announced. The DAIA denounced the meeting.
Neo-Nazis were involved in several violent incidents. A youth who was reading a book in the subway by the well-known Argentinean writer Julio Cortazár, was assaulted by a group of neo-Nazis, who shouted: “Cortazár died from cancer and we are the cancer that will kill all you communists.” The DAIA condemned the attack, and the governmental bodies INADI (National Anti-discrimination Institute) and APDH (Permanent National Assembly for Human Rights) lodged a complaint with the police.
The year 1999 was marked by a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents compared with previous years. Nevertheless, several serious incidents were recorded, including the planting of two explosive charges at the entrance of the homes of two Jewish families in Paraná in August 1999. The charges were discovered after anonymous calls to the homes of the families and the police.
In addition, there were two major desecrations of Jewish cemeteries, one on 19-20 September, when 63 graves were desecrated in the main Jewish cemetery La Tablada, and another on 30 September when 12 graves were vandalized in the old Jewish cemetery of Ciudadela. In both cases, the DAIA claimed that, once again, police of the Province of Buenos Aires were targeting the Jewish community as part of their resistance to reforms in the police force (see ASW 1997/8). Five other desecrations of Jewish cemeteries took place during 1999, including in the city of Mendoza, where 20 gravestones were damaged.
Four Jewish institutions in the Jewish neighborhood of Once in Buenos Aires received anti-Semitic leaflets in April 1999. The text, printed on colored paper, with a large swastika in the middle, contained veiled anti-Semitic references.
Several anonymous false bomb threats were received, the most alarming at the AMIA community building in December, which had to be evacuated. Others were reported at the Keren Hayesod building in July and at the Yavneh school in Buenos Aires in October. A telephone threat to “blow up the cursed Jews” resulted in the cancellation of the premiere of Fiddler on the Roof in October in the city of Tucumán.
The following nationalist publications, which have also begun to appear online, are anti-Semitic in content: Patria Argentina, of the Confederación Nacionalista Argentina (Nationalist Argentinean Confederation), founded 1985; El Fortín, of the Centro de Estudios Evolianos (Evolian Study Center), founded 1996. El Mosquito (1982); El Ataque (1986); and Fuerza nacional (1997). Historia NR which appeared as a newspaper from 1985 to 1988, but ceased publication following the enactment of the anti-discrimination law, has been disseminated since 1998 solely on the Internet. Nuestra será la Victoria, of PNOSP; Libertad de Opinión, of PNT and Discenso, of the Foundación Cultura y Labor, are nationalist, neo-Nazi periodicals.
RESPONSES TO RACISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM
The years following the bombing of the Israeli embassy in 1992 and the AMIA building in 1994 were characterized by tense relations between the Jewish community and the authorities. It is only recently that the DAIA’s vigorous struggle against anti-Semitism has been conducted in close cooperation with the Argentinean authorities. Many of its complaints lead to investigations and some, subsequently, to trials.
Official and Public Activity
On 10 May 1999 the Supreme Court of Argentina announced that the Islamic Jihad was behind the bombing of the Israeli embassy in March 1992, and that the building had been blown up by a car bomb. According to the DAIA, since the Islamic Jihad operates under the auspices of the Iranian government, the Iranian government was responsible for the attack. Nevertheless, DAIA has asked the judicial authorities not to close the case as the local connection has still to be clarified.
The minister of education announced in February 2000 that 19 April would be incorporated in the school calendar as “Tolerance Day” in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the victims of the Holocaust.
An exhibition entitled “One Day in the Warsaw Ghetto,” held in a marquee in the city center, drew more that 10,000 visitors. This exhibition was organized by the Memorial Foundation for the Holocaust (Fundación Memoria del Holocausto), and the DAIA. The president of the republic, Dr. Fernando de la Rúa, attended the opening ceremony.
The AMIA Case
Throughout 1999 the Jewish community continued to press for the immediate trial of the policemen, including the chief suspect Juan José Ribelli, detained since 1995 for their alleged implication in the AMIA bombing, as well as of Carlos Tedellín, the suspect who provided the car which delivered the bomb to the policemen.
In February 2000, Judge Juan Carlos Galeano stated that the search for the plotters would continue. He said that “20 people who were associated with the policemen and whose activity could have had an effect on the bombing,” would be tried as accomplices in the attack, including a car thief and five provincial police officers known to have dealt in stolen vehicles. Fpolice officers are to be charged with lesser crimes in connection with the bombing.
An unsuccessful legal action brought by the Jewish community in 1996 against ex-general Suarez Masón, under the anti-discrimination law, was re-opened in January 1999. In 1995, Masón, who was an active member of the Argentinean junta (1976-83), declared in an interview to the press that “I know the Jews very well and I reject them.” The judicial proceedings were still continuing in mid-2000.
In June 1999 the judicial authorities, acting on information they had received from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, began investigating the activities of Walhalla SRL, a publishing house in San Luis province, which is accused of selling and distributing videos and books containing Nazi ideology. Much of the material in question, such as the Nazi movie The Eternal Jew, is prohibited under the anti-discrimination law.
In another case involving the Verdad y Justicia (Truth and Justice) movement, which was allegedly linked to previous desecrations of the La Tablada cemetery (see previous reports), Miguel Angel Russo was given a jail term in October under the anti-discrimination law, for publishing and disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. Russo is the only Argentinean citizen currently in prison for anti-Semitic activities.
Lengthy testimony on Jews who disappeared in the period of the military junta was sent by the DAIA to Judge Baltazar Garzón in Spain, who is collecting evidence, inter alia, about the crimes of the regime and about Argentina’s “disappeared.”
In May 1999 the DAIA demanded the dismissal of the three judges who nullified the verdict of a lower court judge in the 1995 case of a skinhead attack, accompanied by anti-Semitic insults, against a non-Jewish youth. The judge had sentenced the three skinheads to prison terms (see ASW 1998/9). Judges Bisordi, Basavilbaso and Catuchi, who overturned the sentence argued that the term “dirty Jews” was a general war cry used by such youths, with no anti-Semitic intention. The DAIA’s call was supported by the APDH.