Ralph Goldman and David Ben Rafael, Z”L

I was saddened to learn of the passing at age 100 of one of the Jewish people’s truly great leaders, the iconic Ralph Goldman.  Ralph, whose amazing career is most associated with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, played a pivotal role in building the State of Israel — he was advisor and friend to the likes of David Ben Gurion, Shimon Peres, and Teddy Kollek — and addressing the interests and needs of Jews throughout the world.

It was my privilege to spend some time with him over the last couple of decades, unfortunately, due to tragic circumstances. His son, David, was a friend whom I had met in the early 1970s when both of us studied law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. David, along with 28 other people, was killed in the terrorist attack on Israel’s Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.

I left Israel in 1978 to return to the United States where I pursued a career in the Jewish community, spending most of it advocating on behalf of Israel. David stayed, joined the foreign diplomatic service and had a number of positions in Israeli missions, including the consulate in Chicago.

David and I stayed in touch, and the last time we saw each other was in the cafeteria at Israel’s Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.  We discussed the political situation, personal matters — he and I debated the pros and cons of becoming fathers later in life, which we both did — and his assignment as deputy chief of mission to the embassy in Argentina, his most senior position to date.

Just months later, I was on a conference call with the then Israeli consul general in NYC Uri Savir, when he informed the participants that David had been killed. It was such a horrible moment.  The life of a gifted diplomat, a warm and sensitive human being and family man, a real mensch, cut short in his prime.  The perpetrators of this atrocity, widely thought to be Iran-supported Hezbollah militants, with inside accomplices, were never brought to justice.

Of course, just a little over two years later, an even deadlier terrorist attack took place against the AMIA Jewish headquarters in Buenos Aires, again with Hezbollah and Iran thought to be the culprits.  In fact, Interpol issued arrest warrants for six senior Iranian officials on the basis of a report produced by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Those warrants remain in force despite efforts by Argentinian officials to have them lifted.

A trial in the AMIA case against the so-called “local connection” — mostly members of the local Buenos Aires police force, begun just two weeks after 9/11 [I attended the first day along with former JCPA Chair Dr. Leonard Cole of New Jersey]  — ended with not-guilty verdicts due to serious problems uncovered in the investigation and prosecution.

Incredibly, just one day after Ralph’s death, Argentine police arrested a man suspected of planning a terrorist attack against another Jewish institution in Buenos Aires, this time the Sociedad Hebraica.   We almost had a third tragedy on our hands.

Much time has passed since the embassy and AMIA attacks, yet justice still has not been done. For David’s sake, for Ralph’s sake, for all the families so profoundly affected by this terrorism, and for the present Jewish community of Argentina — we must not forget; we must continue to push for the apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators both foreign and home-based.

About the Author
Martin J. Raffel served for 27 years as Senior Vice President at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Director of its Task Force on Israel, World Jewry and International Human Rights.