The return to my home country — Argentina — after living in the United States for 10 years was marked by the joy of being reunited with my family and loved ones and back in the land that I had missed so much, but also by a profound disappointment.
Shortly after arriving to the country, in early 2013, the government made public an agreement that it apparently had been negotiating in secret for the last two years with the Iranian regime. Through this agreement, to which I referred at length in previous articles, a bi-national commission was supposed to be created to “re-investigate” the terrible 1994 terrorist attack against the building of AMIA (Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association).
The prosecutor of the case, Alberto Nisman, who had accused several Iranian officials of having planned and executed the attack, had not been consulted or even informed of these negotiations.
Although the government justified its decision on the need to make progress in a case that they perceived as “paralyzed,” the idea of forming an “investigative commission” with none other than the accused of being responsible for the bombing sounded absurd and, therefore, many of us believed that there was something “murky” about this pact.
Already in 2011, the late journalist Pepe Eliachev had published a piece in which he stated that a meeting between the Argentine foreign minister and his Iranian counterpart had taken place in Syria. At this meeting -and according to Eliachev’s informant- the Argentine minister allegedly stated that Argentina was no longer interested in investigating the AMIA attack and was willing to reach an agreement with the Iranians in exchange for increased trade between the two countries.
Many representatives of the Jewish community got mobilized to try to prevent the pact from being ratified by Congress, but our attempts to persuade key legislators from the ruling party not to endorse it were unsuccessful.
Two years later, Prosecutor Alberto Nisman surprised the whole country by accusing the president, her foreign minister and other members and allies of the government of having negotiated the agreement with Iran in order to achieve impunity for the accused, in exchange for a trade agreement that included oil.
A few days after making this very serious allegation, the prosecutor appeared mysteriously dead in his apartment. The government immediately suggested that it was a suicide. The strong feeling of disbelief among the population though, made them change course and admit the possibility of a murder, but not before making every effort to tarnish the memory of the prosecutor and his reputation, making use of the considerable media-outlets that respond to the government to this end.
Through my work at B’nai B’rith International, I had the opportunity to meet with Prosecutor Nisman on several occasions to learn about the progress of his investigation. He struck me as a brilliant man, extremely passionate about his investigation and, above all, very brave. This is why the current attempts to tarnish his memory causes me deep unease and a sense of hopelessness about the democratic future of my country.
Even though there were brave prosecutors willing to keep Nisman’s complaint alive, the judges assigned to the case decided to deny the possibility of a serious investigation and closed the case, with phony legal arguments.
Such a serious complaint clearly deserved the opening of an investigation. But this is no longer a possibility in today’s Argentina.
The fate of the AMIA case itself is also now a big question. Without Nisman and with a government that is clearly trying to get closer to Iran, the chances of getting justice in the case are more distant than ever.
As if all of the above was not enough, the government recently embraced an absurd conspiracy theory, according to which Nisman would have acted in collusion with the so called “vulture” funds (speculative funds that have been litigating for years against the Argentine State) to prevent a rapprochement between Argentina and Iran. The most representative organizations of the local Jewish community, AMIA and DAIA (the umbrella group that represents the Jews of Argentina) were also accused of being a part of this Machiavellian plot, as well as individual personalities of the community.
The government based its allegations on an article that was published in a pro-government newspaper by a former director of the DAIA, who is now a government official. When reading this article one has the impression of reading a chapter of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It is a piece of classic anti-Semitism that should have no place in a modern democratic society. However, in today’s Argentina, an article of this nature is strongly endorsed by the government.
But the government’s offensive did not stop there. The foreign minister decided to renounce his membership of AMIA and did it by publishing a letter, in which he states that he’s embarrassed about the fact that DAIA and AMIA oppose the pact with Iran because of “foreign interests.” Naturally, the Jewish community felt seriously injured and defenseless.
As an Argentine citizen and a member of the Jewish community, I think the government has crossed a dangerous line. Are they really anti-Semitic? I do not know, but the fact that the president and her supporters did not hesitate to endorse these anti-Semitic arguments to boost their image is quite disturbing.
Argentina is today going through the greatest institutional crisis since the return to democracy in 1983. The recent attack against the Jewish community only adds to the existing confrontations that the government has with other sectors of society.
Because the government has the majority in both houses of Congress, pretty much all the initiatives of the Executive are automatically approved, without the necessary debate that must exist in a true democracy. And now, the government is trying to take control of the Supreme Court – the ultimate guarantor of the separation of powers – by expanding the number of justices in this body and by attacking those members who act with complete independence.
Given that there will be presidential elections in just a few months, it is my sincere hope that the next government, regardless of its political orientation, is able to start the process of restoring our institutions and the rule of law, with the support of the many people who fervently want the country to return to the democratic path that has been so severely damaged in recent years.
This post was originally published in English and in Spanish on the B’nai B’rith website.