Sharon Nazarian

Latin American Jews still don’t have justice 25 years after the AMIA massacre

Successive Argentine governments failed in investigating the bombing. It's time to finally hold Hezbollah accountable
A man prays in front of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center during the commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the terrorist bombing attack that killed 85 people and injured 300, in Buenos Aires on July 18, 2017. (AFP / Juan Mabromata / Getty Images)
A man prays in front of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center during the commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the terrorist bombing attack that killed 85 people and injured 300, in Buenos Aires on July 18, 2017. (AFP / Juan Mabromata / Getty Images)

JTA — In any crime against a community, certain things must happen to provide some measure of healing and redemption.

But as we approach the 25th anniversary of the horrific bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, these necessary steps have not taken place.

Despite years of activity and rhetoric, justice has not been achieved for the victims, their families and Latin American Jewry — 85 people were killed and 300 injured. Argentines have not been brought together in solidarity with the Jewish community, and the government has not instilled a measure of confidence that such a devastating event will be prevented from ever happening again.

Because of this reality, a feeling exists all these years later that the terror is being relived constantly rather than being put behind them.

Early on, it became clear that Iran, through its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, was responsible for the bombing. Hezbollah had been active in the anarchic border among Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil known as the Triple Frontier.

Interpol made clear that it suspected high-level officials in the Iranian regime as being the masterminds of the plot. In 2007, red alerts were issued for former Foreign Minister Ahmad Vahidi and other Iranian officials. Disappointingly, Interpol did not issue similar alerts for former officials such as Ali Rafsanjani, Ali Akbar Velayati and Hadi Soleimanpour, the ex-ambassador to Argentina.

Meanwhile, different Argentine governments and judiciaries mismanaged or politicized the matter and never truly followed up to bring those responsible to justice.

The investigation reached a low during the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner between 2007 and 2013. A special prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was appointed and, according to reports, he allegedly found Kirchner and other members of her government guilty of complicity with the Iranians to cover up the Iranian role in the bombing. The day before Nisman was scheduled to issue his findings, he was found dead in his apartment.

Kircher’s government quickly claimed it was a suicide, but it soon became apparent that Nisman had been murdered. Nisman has come to be known as the “86th victim” of the AMIA attack. His death was tragic not only because the world lost a committed prosecutor, but also because some of the deepest and more complicated findings of the case were buried with him.

Still, there have been some advances, including some by the current administration of President Mauricio Macri.

In July 2018, Argentine federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral requested the arrest and extradition of Velayati from Russia and China when he was visiting those countries. Velayati, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, was implicated in ordering the bombing while he was foreign minister.

That same month, the Argentine Financial Information Unit ordered the freezing of assets of Hezbollah financiers in the Triple Frontier, the place where the attack is believed to have originated.

To help prevent future attacks, the Argentine government should label Hezbollah a terrorist organization — a step that may happen imminently. With the support of the US government, Argentina can become a regional leader in the fight against terrorist and criminal activity in Latin America.

In addition to these positive developments in efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, a silver lining has emerged regarding the attack’s collective impact on Argentine society.

Initially, the AMIA bombing was seen only as an attack on Jews. Non-Jewish victims, of which there were many, were perceived as “innocents.” This approach not only separated Jews from the rest of the society but also implied that somehow Jewish or Israel activity may have been the cause of the bombing. While it took many years for authorities to take a clear and proper stand on these matters, today there is an effort to make the AMIA bombing a symbol of pain for all Argentines.

It is encouraging to see that the current Argentine government is making a global effort to commemorate the attack in many consulates and embassies around the world. The Anti-Defamation League is joining ceremonies organized by Jewish groups in partnership with the government of Argentina in New York, Chicago, Miami, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, and ADL’s Israel Office has partnered with the Diaspora Museum to commemorate the tragic attack with a remembrance ceremony. A government-sponsored traveling photo exhibit was unveiled recently in New York depicting vivid photos of that fateful day juxtaposed with contemporary portraits of the surviving families.

Argentina suffers from some of the same rising anti-Semitic trends we see globally now, and while there have been many missteps in the investigation, it is apparent that the Macri administration has committed to fighting anti-Semitism.

On this anniversary, the importance of not forgetting has more meaning potentially if these positive steps become a permanent part of the Argentine approach to this tragedy. Argentina must continue to step up.

About the Author
Sharon Nazarian is Senior Vice President, International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League
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