A conversation with Sergio Pikholtz, second vice-president of the DAIA, an organization that has been fighting antisemitism for 87 years.
Antisemitism knows no ideological preferences, time or geographical space. It is a threat that is alive, dynamic and takes many forms to penetrate wherever and whenever. In this sense, digital evolution and social networks have been variables that have considerably reduced the expansion times of content to a society that prefers to be informed rather than educated.
It is very common for academic disciplines, when addressing the issue of the Middle East in general, but Israel in particular, to spread adulterated and biased visions resulting from different motives, but which always deepen the same tendency: to question the right to exist of the Jewish State, a member state of the United Nations Organization that is home to around 9 million people, 20% of whom are perfectly integrated Muslim Arabs.
Sergio Pikholst is, in addition to being second vice-president of the Delegation of Argentinean Israelite Associations, an active user of the social network Twitter to fight antisemitism on social networks from within.
What has the fight against antisemitism, discrimination, racism and xenophobia been like throughout the 87 years of the DAIA?
“The way in which antisemitism changes also changes the way in which we fight it, and this has been an important premise in the DAIA over the last 87 years. When the organization was created in 1935, the Shoah had not yet happened, the infamous decade was at its peak in Argentina and only a few years had passed since the Tragic Week with several antisemitic prognoses.”
“At that time, antisemitism had a strong reactionary right-wing imprint that linked Jews to workers’ struggles and committed a foreign conspiracy. It is in this context that the DAIA was born and consolidated as an organization that also represented the plurality of the Jewish community in Argentina.”
The Tragic Week and its fateful events took place on 7 January 1919 when, in the midst of a country abandoning the liberal model of the 19th century and sinking into economic depression, the armed forces fired on strikers gathered in Pedro Vasena’s metal workshops. By this time, the Patriotic League was formed, an armed civilian faction that tortured and murdered Argentine Jews in antisemitic rallies.
The first big test for the DAIA came three years after its founding when the Luna Park stadium, a famous stadium in Buenos Aires, was the scene of a horrifying act that the world was experiencing at the time.
“On 10 March 1938 was the first great test of representativeness and unity when, at Luna Park, Argentine Nazi factions gathered to celebrate the annexation of Austria, the Anschluss, by Hitler’s Germany. From that moment until today, the DAIA works in public and other actions of the utmost discretion to preserve the lives of Jews.”
Argentina, home to an estimated 200,000 members of the Jewish community, has been a target of Islamic terrorism perpetrated by Hezbollah, the Lebanese faction, but planned by Iran. Fateful events such as impunity in the AMIA case, the murder of prosecutor Nisman and Iran’s flights through Venezuelan airlines for unclear purposes, make DAIA’s vigilance, like that of other Argentinean organizations, a permanent fixture.
“Yesterday, fascism appealed to the old antisemitic libels such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the old stigmas that spoke of the Jew as the creator of communism, the Jew as the banker of the world and the Jew as the dominator of the world. Today it is the reactionary left that attacks with its anti-Israel and stigmatizing slogans of the only Jewish state in the world under irrational arguments such as the one that talks about being anti-Zionist, but not antisemitic.”
The State of Israel, although established in 1948, has a historical and irrefutable belonging in the land of the birth of the Jewish people. Over the years, the world’s only Jewish state has become home to some 9 million people, 20% of whom are Arab Muslim communities that are fully integrated and categorically deny that Israel is apartheid. The attempt to wipe Israel off the map, under the fallacy of the Palestinian cause, condemns to physical and spiritual disappearance those millions of Israelis who today only find refuge in that state surrounded by countries that for decades have declared hostility to it.
In recent years, Israel has been publicly assaulted by the religious, military and political authorities of Iran, the Islamic republic experiment inaugurated in 1979 that threatens to wipe Israel off the map with anything, including nuclear weapons. Lukewarm, if any, condemnation from the international community is the silence these threatening groups need to operate with impunity.
“In all cases and at all times, DAIA responded with concrete actions, educational programs, legal actions, political advocacy, and all those provisions that condemn antisemitic acts. In addition, we work with 17 other vulnerable groups, accompanying them in their problems and fighting together against discrimination.”
In this regard, the promotion and adoption of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism has been a key pillar.
“Broadening the IHRA definition allows us to broaden those concepts that can be encompassed by Judeophobic behaviors”.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, and its Palestinian-Israeli counterpart, has been one of the most controversial issues for many people who have heard nothing but the fallacious versions of the Israeli occupation and the sanctification of Palestinian leaders, eternalized in power and responsible for the violation of human rights and international law.
From your point of view, how is the coverage of the Palestinian issue in the media in Argentina? How does the Palestinian issue also impact on antisemitic content?
“Although there are organisations that deal in detail with the issue, such as the Organización Sionista Argentina, we understand that fake news about the conflict and the dissemination of biased information have the potential to generate antisemitic content, especially on social networks. However, I personally believe that Jew-haters and Israel haters do not need excuses or justifications.”
Whenever Hamas missiles are aimed at Israel, the alarm sirens start blaring and it is time to drop everything and move to the shelters. However, media coverage and the public eye on social media tends to focus on the issue only when Israel exercises its right to self-defense under article 51 of the UN Charter.
“It is true that many times the information that the media publishes, especially in its headlines and headlines, does not differentiate between a terrorist organization like Hamas and a country like Israel. It is also true that, since the latest escalations of the conflict in Gaza, media coverage has become clearer and more contextualized.”
Finally, what should we expect from the DAIA on the eve of its centenary?
“The mission of an organization that is vital for two essential reasons: the fight against antisemitism and the preservation of the memory of the Shoah. At the same time, we also accompany other vulnerable groups and combat all forms of discrimination. Hopefully one day these discourses will disappear, but in the meantime the institution must modernize and develop new tools to fight on the political, legal, educational, communicational and action levels. We aim at developing community leadership in the young adult generation and broaden the horizon of our work to all levels of society, from trade unions to schools, municipalities or football clubs. The fight against antisemitism does not allow for any rest.”