Alberto Nisman (Who?)

Alberto Nisman, the Jewish-Argentinian prosecutor scheduled to present evidence that the Argentinian government covered up Iran’s involvement in a Jewish community center bombing in exchange for an oil deal, was mysteriously found dead only days before he is supposed to show up in court. The Argentinian government immediately ruled it a suicide, thus effectively ending the investigation. What we know:

  1. Nisman was found with a bullet to the head. He had borrowed a gun for protection the day before.
  2. There was no gunshot residue on Nisman’s hands. Such residue is generally found on the hands of those that shoot themselves. This lack was deemed “unfortunate” by the official coroner in charge of examining Nisman’s body.
  3. Nisman’s apartment had one unlocked door leading to a vacant apartment, where a footprint and a fingerprint were found.
  4. Nisman’s apartment also had one locked, but easy-to-pick door. Thats the professional opinion of the locksmith who picked the door, at Nisman’s mother’s request, after Nisman hadn’t answered his phone for a few hours, which is how they found the body.
  5. Ten bodyguards were assigned to Nisman, but no-one can ascertain their whereabouts on the night in question.
  6. Nisman had no history of mental illness. He was excited and looking forward to presenting his evidence. His ex-wife claims he would never have committed suicide.

There are many theories out there: 1. The government was behind his death. 2. The government was complicit, either by giving a nod and a wink to the murderer beforehand, or by simply refusing to investigate after the fact. 3. It was Hizbollah (which was involved in the Jewish community center bombing) or Iran.

It is possible that none of these theories are correct, that the murder was something else entirely, or that behind his external, un-depressed and looking-forward-to-the-trial demeanor, Nisman was hiding suicidal tendencies.

However, I would like to focus on how each of these theories, if true, presents a threat not just to Argentinian Jews, but to all Argentinian citizens: If it is true that the government either killed off a prosecutor with evidence against them, gave a nod and a wink to someone else to do so, or simply refused to investigate it properly after the fact, then prosecutors throughout Argentina will be unable to hold the Argentinian government accountable for its actions, enabling it to act with impunity. Having a government that is accountable to its citizens is one of the corner-stones of democracy, and prosecutorial freedom is a key component of that. Even if we take the theory of least complicity, in which the government’s only crime was not investigating this properly, that sends a message for the future, that it’s easy to get away with murder, if the victim is someone who is about to make life majorly complicated for the Argentinian government. This is a lesson both would-be murderers and would-be prosecutors will take to heart. The first group will be spurred to action, while the second will refrain from action. Without a legal framework to effectively keep it in check, a government can slowly drift away from democracy, and towards authoritarianism.

If Hizbollah or Iran are involved, then all Argentinians are under threat. When a terrorist organization or a foreign country is able to stage assassinations in your country, that doesn’t bode well for your safety. And while Iran might focus on Jewish targets,  ultimately, America plays Big Satan to Israel’s Little Satan, because it is all Westerners and Western values that are perceived as the enemy.  Besides, if Argentinian forces are either unable to catch assassins or are willing to turn a blind eye to an enemy just because it’s politically convenient to do so, what’s to stop them from either being as ineffective or as heartless when it comes to the next politically inconvenient enemy, who might target you?

The answer might be anti-Semitism: In a 2011 study done by the ADL, a full 59% of respondents felt that Argentina either had no responsibility to ensure the safety of its Jewish citizens, or were unsure about the matter. So maybe your chances of being better protected against would-be assassins are actually higher if you’re an Argentinian gentile. Has anti-Semitism played a role, either in Nisman’s death or in the investigation? (Spoiler: If he was killed by Hizbollah or Iran, than the answer is definitely “yes”.) While I can’t answer the question definitively, I think it is an important one to ask. A 2011 ADL survey found that anti-Semitic stereotypes pervaded Argentinian society, with 64% of respondents agreeing that Jews have too much power, and more than half believing that Jews are primarily interested in making money. Not only does Argentina have an active neo-Nazi population, but it also has a Nazi population, thanks to Hitler-admirer Juan Peron’s decision to make the country a haven for Nazis who fled Germany at the end of World War Two. In 2012, the Argentinian government actually decided to engage in “dialogue” with Iran about it’s role in the anti-Semitic bombing of a Jewish community center, and just last night, ten Israeli tourists in Patagonia were hurt in an anti-Semitic attack, as perpetrators yelled “fucking Jews”, while hurling stones and molotov cocktails, and firing guns.

As I said earlier, I can’t answer my question definitively. I don’t think anyone can; after all, we don’t even know if there was a murder, let alone who did it. But that is precisely why the Argentinian government should devote its energy to making sure there is a thorough and complete investigation, one that sends a message to the public: That the Argentinian government takes all mysterious deaths, including those of its political opponents, extremely seriously, and will not stand for the murder of those holding evidence that it is in the public interest to disclose, even if that evidence might be damning to major political actors. This is a message about the rule of law in Argentina that would-be prosecutors and whistle-blowers need to hear, in order to ensure Argentina’s future as a free and democratic society.

Quite frankly, I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about this: The handling of the Alberto Nisman case casts major doubt on the perceived legitimacy of Argentina’s criminal-justice system. Such legitimacy is crucial to a democracy’s maintaining a well-ordered society. Since Argentina is a major Latin American country, this should have international ramifications.

But it doesn’t. Why?

PS – Last night’s attackers might have yelled “you shit Jews”, not “fucking Jews”. Apparently there’s a difference of translation.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.