A leader of the Jewish community in Argentina said here last week that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s recent state visit to Buenos Aires has placed the Jewish community on alert.
“We’ll be observing to see if relations between Iran and Venezuela bring problems to Jews in Argentina and other Latin American countries,” said Angel Schindel, first vice president of the DAIA, Argentina’s Jewish political umbrella group representing 140 institutions.
Chavez, who has a close relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has developed close ties to Argentine President Nestor Kirchner as he helps Argentina recover from its near economic collapse in 2002. During his two-day visit to Argentina last week, Chavez, flush with oil profits, pledged to help Argentina refinance more of its debt and to increase energies supplies to the country. Argentina is suffering its worst energy crisis in decades because of a lack of investment in drilling for new oil and natural gas deposits and an unusually cold winter.
Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and convened a government-sponsored conference in Tehran last December for Holocaust deniers. But Schindel said those views are not shared by Argentine officials.
“One of the ministers — not the president — officially declared that the government is against the Iranian position calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust,” he said during a luncheon hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. Schindel pointed out that Kirchner appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center that killed 85 and wounded more than 200. It followed the 1992 bombing of the Israeli consulate in Buenos Aires; both attacks killed more than 100.
Kirchner reopened the case of the Jewish community center bombing after years of failed investigations. And last October the special prosecutor concluded that the bombing was orchestrated from Tehran. He implicated seven top former Iranian government officials — including the former president — and a Hezbollah operative. The findings were forwarded to Interpol, the international police organization, and arrest warrants were issued for the eight. No arrests have yet been made.
Schindel pointed out that Kirchner approved of the arrest warrants. Last January, Kirchner refused to attend the inauguration of Rafael Correa as president of Ecuador because Ahmadinejad was present.
Kirchner’s wife, Cristina, is running for president to succeed her husband in the Oct. 28 election. Schindel said he believes that if elected she would be even more supportive of the Jewish community. Polls show her winning. During his presentation, he and Marisa Braylan, director of the Center for Social Studies of the DAIA, presented a report on anti-Semitic incidents in Argentina in 2006. It found that there were about 580 incidents compared with 373 in 2005; almost two-thirds included vandalism in public places, such as graffiti offensive to Jews and/or Israel. There are about 250,000 Jews in Argentina out of a population there of 37 million.
Braylan pointed out that the number of incidents rose last summer after Israel’s Lebanon war. About 20 percent of anti-Semitic incidents last year came during July and August. The war claimed the lives of 159 Israeli civilians and military personnel; Israel said more than 500 Hezbollah fighters were killed.