ARGENTINA - ONE YEAR LATER
by David H. Strassler and Abraham H. Foxman
Jewish history in the 20th century is one of unprecedented destruction
followed by rebuilding -- reflected in the Holocaust and the rebirth of
Israel. The emotions, the memories, the struggles that surround such powerful,
historical events are at the center of Jewish life.
The Jewish community of Argentina has been going through its own such struggle
for the past year. On July 18th, it will be one year since a car bomb ripped
through the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, striking at the heart of Jewish
life in Argentina. Ninety-six people were killed and scores more wounded.
Century-old records of the community were destroyed. Today, on the very
spot of the carnage, there is rebirth. Cranes and jacksaws are at work clearing
the rubble and engaging in the process of rebuilding the center of Argentinean
Jewish community life. The determination to overcome the pain of the past
year and to challenge the hatred directly by rebuilding on the same location
During this past year of mourning, Jews have yet again mobilized their communal
strength to fight back in the face of tragedy. First, from all over the
world, they have come forth to demonstrate the sense of oneness of the Jewish
people. Immediately after the blast, they lent emotional, political and
financial support to the Argentinean community. The State of Israel sent
experts to help rescue survivors buried under the rubble. Synagogues and
organizations held memorial services and meetings the world over. In the
months since the bombing, there have been continued demonstrations of solidarity
with the Jews of Argentina, and several American Jewish delegations have
visited Buenos Aires. During our own ADL mission to Argentina in April,
we strengthened our ties with the Jewish community and pledged to work together
on issues of mutual concern.
Second, there has been an aggressive search for justice -- a critical element
in retaining hope for the future. In a recent letter to ADL, the leadership
of the DAIA, the political arm of Argentinean Jewry, expressed the need
for justice most effectively: "Nothing will ever return to life the
deceased, but justice will certainly help the wounds. When we are asked
if we are optimistic or pessimistic about the results of the investigation,
our reply is always the same: we are obstinate, we shall not rest until
the culprits, their backers and supporters are denounced and brought to
justice. This is our moral duty towards our dead, their families and ourselves."
We in the American Jewish community have pressed the Argentinean government
to do more to find the criminals who bombed the building and to insure that
future terrorism is prevented. To date, the perpetrators have not been found,
and while the Argentineans have taken certain steps to improve anti-terrorist
capability, it is still disturbing that more has not been accomplished to
solve the case. Searching for justice remains critical to rebirth and we
in the American Jewish community must recommit ourselves to help Argentinean
Jews find justice.
And then there is memory. All of us understand that to remember is not only
to pay respect to those martyrs who have fallen, but also to give ourselves
the strength and purpose to go on. Memory is a particularly powerful ingredient
in this instance because by destroying the records of Jewish life in Argentina,
the terrorists struck a devastating blow to the collective memory of Argentinean
Jewry. Our commitment to remember must be reasserted. On July 18th a community
service at the ADL will commemorate the horror of one year ago.
Fourth, we have pursued political action to remedy specific wrongs and to
provide psychological reassurance that such evil can be combatted. It is
heartening that the leaders of the country have made a major effort to protect
Jewish institutions but we must insure as time passes this protection does
Furthermore, here in the United States, the anti-terrorism legislation strongly
supported by the Jewish community is on the way towards passage. This legislation
should encourage other nations to act more forcefully, particularly regarding
the menace of Islamic extremist terrorism. We recognize the need to balance
the fight against terrorism with the protection of civil liberties -- both
are critical to Jewish security. In a country like Argentina, with its unfortunate
history of dictatorship and violence, concerns about civil liberties must
be especially strong. Still, there are ways to create strong anti-terrorism
legislation without jeopardizing freedom, and we must continue to urge such
action in Argentina.
At a time when world Jewry is struggling with the issues surrounding the
Middle East peace process, one hears much about what divides us. The tragedy
of last July 18th should be a reminder that we are one people. When the
terrorists attacked the AMIA building, they didn't ask whether the Jews
inside were left or right, religious or non-religious. As our enemies have
historically done, they attacked Jews. At this time the best tribute we
can pay to our fallen brothers and sisters in Buenos Aires is to recommit
ourselves to the fundamental unity of our people and to recognize that we
can overcome the tragedies and evils if we stand together.
David H. Strassler is National Chairman and Abraham H. Foxman
is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.