Argentine Jews see upsurge in anti-Israel incidents since war


BUENOS AIRES — Anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise in Argentina since the Israeli-Hezbollah war began in mid-July, and the community is responding.

On the Internet, Jewish intellectuals, professionals and businessmen are running two pro-Israel petitions. The community also has held demonstrations, partly to counter four anti-Israel protests held in front of the local Israeli Embassy by leftist political groups.

The pro-Israel community also is facing criticism from politicians. Government official Luis D’Elia spoke about the Mideast conflict at a street demonstration last week, a speech that journalist Joaquin Morales Sola thought really took aim at interfaith relations in Argentina.

It’s one thing to advocate “a solution for the Palestinian people — that must happen — but it’s another to support Hezbollah’s anti-Jewish affiliation,” Morales Sola wrote in La Nacion.

After the month-long war began in mid-July, Buenos Aires’ public Philosophy and Literature University was vandalized several times with anti-Israel graffiti. Last week the university’s walls were plastered with anti-Israel posters, said Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the Jewish community’s DAIA umbrella group.

“Be patriotic; kill Jews,” was written on university classrooms and bathrooms.

DAIA criticized the graffiti, as did Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“Under the pretended ideology of leftist youth groups against Zionism and the United States, there is a clear, prejudiced slant,” Kirszenbaum told JTA in a telephone interview.

The walls were cleaned and the university director met with Kirszenbaum.

On Aug. 30, the Senate passed a resolution deploring the graffiti attacks.

But incidents have continued: Also Aug. 30, some 4,000 people demonstrated against Israel in front of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Most of the protesters were left-wingers, human-rights activists or extremist Muslims. Quebracho, a left-wing group that prevented an anti-Iran demonstration last month organized by the Jewish community, also participated.

Nearby, in downtown Buenos Aires, graffiti appeared equating Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with former Argentine dictators.

And on Sept. 4, more anti-Semitic graffiti was found, this time at San Luis University in central Argentina.

After meeting with the country’s interior minister, Jewish leaders from DAIA and AMIA, the Jewish community’s main institution, filed a lawsuit against Quebracho last Friday at the Federal Court, accusing it of incitement and disturbing public order.

The situation “gives us enormous preoccupation and sadness as Argentines,” not just as Jewish leaders, Kirszenbaum and Luis Grynwald, AMIA’s president, told the court.

AMIA board member Edgardo Gorenberg described Quebracho as “a threat to democracy,” saying it “recalls the darkest” parts of Argentine history.

According to Sergio Widder, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Latin American representative, the regional alliance between extremist Muslim groups and extremist left-wing political groups already is known in the region, and has been a subject of concern to the center for several years.

“However, it’s new that this alliance is open in Argentina,” Widder told JTA.

To Widder, the developments indicate a breaking point in Argentine society. After bombing attacks in the early 1990s on the local Israeli Embassy and AMIA and the revelation of Hezbollah’s connection to the attacks, no one dared to openly express an affiliation with Hezbollah. But that taboo has now been broken, Widder said.

“The street demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy, as well as the Philosophy University incidents, take primitive anti-Semitic arguments and go beyond the Middle East conflict,” he said.