Anti-Semitism in Argentina

Against the Current, No. 54, January/February 1995

James Petras

LAST SUMMER’S TERRORIST bombing of the Jewish community center, which killed 100 people and maimed and injured dozens more, is the latest and most horrendous of a series of unsolved terrorist crimes in Argentina.

There are two hypotheses about the failures of the Argentine police and intelligence agencies. One argues that they are incompetent and inefficient, thus the need to send the FBI and MOSSAD to help solve the crimes. The other is that the lack of progress in the investigation as well as the ease with which terrorist incidents are carried out is due to the complicity, tacit or overt of sectors of the intelligence and police apparatus.

The “incompetence” argument holds little water. In the 1970s under the dictatorship many of the same military, police and intelligence forces waged a ruthless campaign, destroying one of the most effective urban guerrilla movements in Latin America. What is significant about the military campaign of the 1970s and early ’80s is that the repression was infused with anti-semitism. Victims and their families testified that when Jewish suspects were being tortured, and/or disappeared, their interrogators hurled anti-semitic insults.

Following the dictatorship, the effort by human rights groups to bring these officials to trial was blocked by President Alfonsin. The handful of generals convicted were later pardoned by the current President Menem. With impunity from past criminal behavior many of these anti-semitic intelligence officers have not only been returned but promoted to higher offices — to repress the burgeoning social movements. Many of these officials have ties any sympathy for radical “nationalist” anti-communist regimes in the Middle East frequently mentioned as sponsors of international terrorism.

Terrorism and Anti-Semitism

Over the past decade, under the electoral regimes, the military, police and intelligence agencies have been actively engaged in terrorist activities. In the mid-1980s two major coups were attempted by sectors of the army. These were reluctantly repressed by the military command — on the condition that the government grant complete amnesty to human rights violators in the armed forces.

From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, military intelligence and police officials were involved in kidnapping and extorting ransom from the families of wealthy business people. There have been at least five break-ins in the offices housing the madres del Plaza de Mayo (The Mothers of May Square), mothers of disappeared political prisoners and an active human rights group demanding that officials involved in human rights violations be brought to justice.

In the past few years over a dozen journalists critical of the Menem regime’s human rights and social policies have been beaten by plainclothes’ police and by other “unknown persons.” None of this terrorist activity has led to any arrests and the investigations have been perfunctory. Equally significant, few Argentineans believe that they will be solved. As Hebe Bonafina, the leader of the Madres, told me recently, “How can you expect the police to solve the crimes when they are the perpetrators?”

How do we explain the silence of the Western governments and influential politicians in the possible involvement of sectors of the Argentine intelligence forces either tacitly or overtly in the terror bombing of the Jewish Center? The history of state-sponsored terrorism, anti-semitism and ties to the Middle East sponsors of terrorism are easy to come by. Is it possible that the lucrative business opportunities accompanying the privatization and free market policies of Menem are more important than violence against Jews?

It is almost certain that President Menem is not directly implicated in any of the terrorist activities. But he is responsible for the continuities in the personnel of the intelligence agencies. He has defended them against human rights critics. And he has even gone so far as to make veiled threats against student protestors: “If we are not going to have another contingent of mothers in the Plaza de Mayo”; he warned, “It ill behooves parents to allow their children in the street to engage in subversive activity.”

The threat of unleashing the death squads hardly squares with the democratic pretensions of the regime. More to the point, if the state terrorists are a latent force, who is to say that they don’t engage in or encourage an occasional terror bombing, just to keep in practice?

Let’s not repeat the tragic experience of the 1930s, when major U.S. multinationals chose to do business with Nazis rather than raise unseemly questions about anti-semitism.

ATC 54, January-February 1995