For the third time in the past five years I found myself back this week in Buenos Aires, on business for the Rabbinical Assembly. I came to spend time with my colleagues in the Latin American region of the Rabbinical Assembly, a connection that was created during my presidency of the RA, and also to work with the leadership of the Seminario Rabbinico Latino Americano, the Jewish Theological Seminary's sister seminary in Argentina. The Seminario was founded by the late, great Rabbi Marshal Meyer, groundbreaking rabbi and champion of human rights and social justice in Argentina during the worst years of the Junta. Almost all of my Latin American colleagues studied for the rabbinate at the Seminario.
It is late summer now in Buenos Aires, with temperatures in the low 80's and the days pleasantly warm and sunny. Under any circumstances, at any time of year, Buenos Aires is a magnificent city, reminiscent of Paris in many ways. It's always a pleasure to be there. It is stunningly beautiful and wonderfully cosmopolitan, and though I never tire of being proud of my home city of New York and admiring of its myriad wonders, there is something about Buenos Aires that is magical. My time there, though filled with meetings, is always, invariably, a delight.
But when I come to Buenos Aires, I am ever mindful of a dark cloud that hangs over the Jewish community there. Just two weeks ago, March 17 marked the twenty-fourth anniversary of a devastating explosion at the Israeli Embassy, in 1992. Twenty-nine innocent people were killed that day, Israelis and bystanders along with them. Iran is widely believed to have been responsible for the bombing. Though Israel traditionally metes out justice in situations like this on its own terms, at the time of its choosing, those responsible– Iranian terrorists– were never brought to justice by Argentina.
Just two years later, on July 18, 1994, an Arab suicide terrorist drove a massive car bomb into the headquarters of the AMIA social services in Buenos Aires. The ensuing blast killed eighty-five people of many faiths and colors, including the beloved wife of a treasured rabbinic colleague, injured hundreds more, and thoroughly traumatized the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, plunging it into a deep grief from which it has yet to fully recover. It was the single largest loss of life from a terrorist incident in Argentina's history.
Once again, Iran was responsible, with accompanying allegations that the government of Argentina was either stalling or blocking an investigation into the event as part of a deal with Iran to gain more favorable trading status.
And then, if possible, the story got even uglier.
In February, 2015, Alberto Nisman, a prosecuting attorney who had alleged that the-then President of Argentina was covering up a secret deal to shield the terrorists involved from prosecution, was found dead of a gun shot wound to the head. He had, significantly, been preparing to share the details of his investigation. The "authorities" claimed that his death was a suicide. No one in Argentina– no one– believes that it was anything other than a politically motivated murder.
To this day, twenty-four years later, no one from either incident has been brought to justice by Argentina. No Iranians, no government officials… No one.
More than twenty years after both of these atrocities, the overwhelming pain that followed those events has diminished, but not the lingering distress and sadness. The world, and, in this case particularly Argentina, has a seemingly endless capacity to ignore and/or forget what we Jews simply cannot and will not allow to fade from our inconvenient memories. Jews were murdered, in cold blood, and setting aside Israel’s response, no one has been brought to justice. To say that there is systemic hypocrisy in how the world blandly turns its other cheek to atrocities perpetrated against Jews and Israel, as opposed to the scrutiny to which Israel is routinely subjected each and every day for having the temerity to defend herself, would be to dramatically understate the obvious.
But that's only a part of the hypocrisy. The worst and most offensive manifestation of it involves Iran, and its re-entry into the community of civilized nations, with the door held wide open by our own United States government.
With the recent signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement between the major western nations and Iran designed to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions, the civilized world returned to Iran full membership status in the community of nations. That pariah nation, which had been brought to its knees by economic sanctions so severe that they were strangling its economy, was granted an almost inconceivable reprieve, in exchange for the temporary suspension of its drive to develop nuclear weapons. Along with the freedom to once again engage in commerce on an international level, close to $150 billion dollars of previously embargoed monies were returned to Teheran's coffers…
So much ink has already been spilled on the subject of the JCPOA that I need not spill more here, other than to say that I hope my message is obvious. What the free world has done- with my own country in the lead- is return to Iran the capacity to wreak its own special brand of havoc around the world, via any number of proxy agencies… Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, and many others. Name the bad players in today's increasingly dangerous world, and the chances are good that Iran is helping them along in their work.
In 1992 and 1994, Iran had the money, the ability, and the will to help Arab terrorists do their deadly work, and because of that the Jewish community of Buenos Aires suffered profoundly. The chances are overwhelmingly good that not only did Argentina look the other way, but its government actually helped cover it up. Almost twenty-four years later, no one cares except for those who simply cannot forget…
Buenos Aires is a magnificent city, but deep down beneath its charming exterior, there is a dark side that cries out for justice… Still.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.