Zalman Myer-Smith
Security for the Community, by the Community.

AMIA – Where were you?

Emergency rescue personnel searching for bodies after the terror attack

In recent times we can ask the poignant question of where were you on 9/11? For older generations, they could more than likely tell you the exact moment they learned when President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas in November 1963 or perhaps when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

If I were to ask you where were you when the AMIA (Argentine Mutual Israeli Asociation) building was destroyed by a van driven by a suicide bomber in 1994, your recollection of that day might not be so clear.

The AMIA bombing was an attack on the Jewish community AMIA building. It occurred in Buenos Aires on 18 July 1994, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds in a densely populated commercial area of the Argentine capital.

The aftermath of this tragic act of civilian mass murder is a sordid tale of Tom Clancy spy novel proportions. Government coverups at the highest level, the assassination of the chief prosecutor investigating the bombing hours before he was meant to deliver his findings to a governmental investigatory commission and clearly linked collusion with the bombing masterminds, the Iranian government regime.

This was not the first mass attack on Jewish civilians in Buenos Aires. Twelve years earlier in 1992, the Israeli Embassy in the Argentinian capital was bombed killing 29 and wounding 242, so terror was nothing new to the Jewish community.

I vividly recall being in London protecting Jewish events and facilities, when the dismaying news started to unravel about a terror attack on a community center on the other side of the world. I remember the shock and horror, along with the realization that, at that time, such an atrocity could be replicated in any city across the world, if the opportunity existed. 

Just over a week after the AMIA massacre, the UK suffered two terror attacks in London, one at the Israeli Embassy and the other at Balfour House, a building housing Jewish and Israeli charities and institutions. Miraculously no one was killed, however, 20 people were injured and have to live with surviving such a trauma.

As we sadly see repeatedly, the community response to terror and trauma is shock, resilience and then acceptance. But that’s the challenge. Acceptance can lead to apathy and a “Keep calm and Carry On” attitude. I’m for that approach, but only with taking action to proactively protect and mitigate similar attacks in the future.

After twenty-five years the threats have evolved as have, more vitally, security protocols and protection in place. However, we face a new wave of metastatic antisemitism that has permeated politics, social and traditional media allowing a new wave of hate to transform itself into senseless acts of violence.

While we continue to wrestle with the aftershocks of the atrocities in Parkland, Pittsburgh, Poway, and the New Zealand Mosque massacre, there are lessons that can be learned on the 25th anniversary of AMIA. CSO, our community security organization promotes protecting, deterring and defending locations from criminal or terroristic acts. Each site MUST ensure the following:

  1. Security Assessments and more vitally, a plan of action.
  2. Law Enforcement liaison and training collaboration.
  3. Train your site staff and build a volunteer team.
  4. Create protocols and turn them into frequent and active drills.
  5. Harden your facility – there are grants available for that and there are low to no-cost options available.

We all, and this refers to Jews and non-Jews, must call out and respond to antisemitism to protect and cherish the very freedoms we hold dear. 

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said in a 2016 speech to the European Parliament,The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. That is what I want us to understand today. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Hitler. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Stalin. It isn’t Jews alone who suffer under ISIS or Al Qaeda or Islamic Jihad. We make a great mistake if we think antisemitism is a threat only to Jews. It is a threat, first and foremost, to Europe and to the freedoms it took centuries to achieve.”

We must eradicate the opportunities to attack our locations, be it in speech or terror by being prepared, cooperating, communicating and accepting that security training and protocols are no longer an option.

About the Author
Zalman Myer-Smith is the National Director of The Community Security Organization focuses on liaising, training, and working with law enforcement agencies and serving thousands of Jewish community synagogues, schools, and centers.
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