Argentina, home to a large and “vibrant” Jewish community, is taking steps to solve the decades-old bombings at the Israeli embassy and AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and the suspicious death last year of a Jewish special prosecutor investigating the cases.
The apparent “dawn of a new era” has come since Argentinean President Mauricio Macri took office in December, said Suri Grussgott, an assistant director of the World Jewish Congress in North America.
Grussgott spoke Sept. 13 at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth. It was something of a homecoming for Grussgott, who graduated from Rutgers University in nearby New Brunswick and whose father, Rabbi Ira Grussgott, served as religious leader at the former Congregation Anshe Emeth of South River, which merged with HPCT-CAE 10 years ago. He is now at Freehold Jewish Center.
The program was cosponsored by the Raritan Valley chapter of Hadassah.
One of Macri’s first acts after being elected was to invalidate a 2013 bilateral memorandum of understanding with Iran, which stated in part that any suspects in the cases would be interrogated in Iran.
Under Macri’s administration, a homicide investigation has been opened into the death of Alberto Nisman, who had spent a decade investigating the bombings, but was found in January 2015 shot to death in his bathroom hours before he was to testify before the Argentinian Congress about Iranian involvement and the former administrations’ attempts to cover it up. The death was quickly ruled a suicide.
Grussgott said the WJC has developed a “wonderful” relationship with the new Argentinian administration, which has already made friendly overtures to the Jewish community. Argentina is home to one of the world’s largest Jewish populations, estimated by the WJC to be 182,000.
In fact, in March the administration held a special plenary in Buenos Aires, which Grussgott attended, with representatives from 67 countries. Among its actions was the passage of resolutions commending Macri and expressing solidarity with Argentinian Jewry’s “fight for justice.”
At a time when Iran is looking to spread its influence in Latin America, Grussgott said, Marci’s actions as well as those of Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes — who in addressing the plenary told of his country’s staunch support for Israel — were particularly welcome.
There are continuing rumors circulating in Argentina that Israel was behind the bombing of its own embassy and sentiment that the bombings were chiefly a “Jewish problem” rather than something directed at the country as a whole. Despite this, Grussgott, said, Argentinean Jews openly practice their religion seemingly without fear.
When she was in Buenos Aires for the plenary, she said, “We saw people walking down the street wearing yarmulkes,” and reported that delegates saw a plethora of synagogues, Jewish agencies and organizations, and kosher restaurants.
‘Worst terror attack’
The 1992 suicide bombing attack at the embassy killed 29 people and injured 242 others, including Israeli diplomats. Although Islamic Jihad took responsibility, the investigation had languished.
Two years later, the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) was targeted, killing 85 and wounding about 300. Additionally, Grussgott said, about 1,000 surrounding stores, businesses, and homes were damaged or destroyed.
“It remains the worst terror attack in Latin America’s history,” she said. “There is evidence that Iranian members of Hizbullah, backed and funded by the government of Iran, were the perpetrators.”
No one has been convicted for these crimes, she said, and “there have been troublesome links between previous administrations and the government of Iran. There is a lot of intrigue and suspicion surrounding people involved in the investigations.”
In 2005, Nisman charged a Lebanese citizen with ties to Hizbullah with being the suicide bomber behind the AMIA attack. The following year he and another prosecutor formally accused the Iranian government with orchestrating the bombing.
Over the next several years the Argentine government put out arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese man for the AMIA attacks. In 2009, former President Carlos Menem and members of his administration, under whose watch the attacks occurred, were charged with crimes relating to the investigation; in 2012 arrest warrants for Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and former prime minister Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were issued.