By Adriana Camisar
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Argentina yesterday after a very successful visit.
The visit was historical because it was the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister visited the country. The trip also showed the great shift of Argentina’s foreign policy since President Mauricio Macri’s inauguration.
During the previous government, the bilateral relationship with the State of Israel had deteriorated considerably, given the close relationship between the government of former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Iranian regime. Indeed, the Argentine government and Iran signed the shameful Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which sought to withdraw the investigation of the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building bombing from Argentina's jurisdiction, and to grant "investigative" powers to the Iranians.
In fact, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who had conducted the AMIA investigation for 10 years, was found dead, under very suspicious circumstances, after denouncing that the president and her officials had negotiated the agreement with Iran in order to get impunity for the accused Iranians. Today, Kirchner is being tried for treason by virtue of Nisman’s complaint.
The rapprochement with Israel is the clearest evidence of the desire of the current Argentine government to distance itself from dictatorial regimes like Iran, Syria and Venezuela and to get closer to Western democracies and the free world.
The Jewish community in Argentina is the largest in South America and the 6th largest in the world, and, undoubtedly, for the majority of Argentine Jews it is a source of great joy to witness the warm reception that Netanyahu received in the country and to see the flags of the two nations displayed together, after so long.
The opportunities for cooperation between the two countries are enormous in the areas of innovation and technology, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, health and education. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a very fruitful relationship.
In addition to Argentina, Netanyahu is also visiting Mexico and Colombia, before heading to New York to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
In addition to strengthening ties with these Latin American countries, Israel is certainly seeking to confront Iran’s infiltration in the region, which took place in the last few years, particularly with the help of Venezuela, and to gain greater support from Latin American countries at the United Nations, where Israel has historically been unfairly treated. Hopefully, this renewed friendship with the nations of the region will indeed be reflected at the U.N. and other multilateral forums.
Jan. 18 will mark the second anniversary of the “mysterious” death of Argentine Federal Prosecutor Alberto Nisman. For more than ten years, Nisman had been in charge of the investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires.
He was found dead in his apartment four days after making extremely serious allegations against then President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and other people close to the government. Nisman stated he had extensive evidence that the government had secretly negotiated a pact with Iran in order to get impunity for the Iranians accused of plotting and executing the AMIA attack.
The pact the prosecutor was referring to—known as the Memorandum of Understanding—was signed in January 2013. Through this agreement, both governments pledged to create a "truth commission" to jointly investigate the AMIA bombing, something as absurd as creating a Nazi commission to investigate the Holocaust. At the time, the government justified the signing of this pact on the need to discover the truth. However, it seemed clear to most people who knew the case, that the signing of this pact represented a major shift in Argentina’s foreign policy, as it attempted to improve relations with Teheran at the expense of the bombing’s many victims.
The pact never came into force because the Iranian Parliament did not ratify it, and also because it was ultimately declared unconstitutional by an Argentine Federal Court. But it would have given the Iranians access to all the documentation of the case, and made it easier for them to get rid of the Interpol red alerts that Nisman had secured against the accused.
Nisman’s death left the country in shock and there are still no clear answers as to what exactly happened to him. However, there is now some hope that his complaint will finally be investigated.
However, several things changed since then. On Dec. 10, 2016, Mauricio Macri took office as the new president of Argentina, and one of the first things he did was to let the pact with Iran die. He did this by not appealing the ruling that had declared it unconstitutional. Macri also said that he expected the judiciary to act with independence and to get to the truth.
Several months ago, the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA), which is the Jewish umbrella organization in Argentina, made a new presentation alleging that the case should be re-opened because of “newly found evidence,” and requested to be admitted as a plaintiff. The new pieces of evidence submitted were a recording that was found in which Timerman—in a conversation with the former head of the AMIA—conceded that he was negotiating with the ones that “placed the bomb,” and the ruling that declared that the pact with Iran was unconstitutional.
Rafecas, the original judge of the case dismissed the request and so did the Federal Court, but when the issue got to the Court of Cassation once again, they finally decided to re-open the investigation. The Court of Cassation accepted the DAIA as a plaintiff and ordered Rafecas and the other judges that had intervened to withdraw from the case.
For the first time in two years the possibility to get to the truth seems real. And, of course, this case could shed light on what really happened to Nisman, as his death is undoubtedly linked to his complaint.
It is still too early to know if the investigation will go as far as it needs to go, but the re-opening of the case is certainly a promising sign.
Still Waiting for Justice: 22 Years After the AMIA Bombing Rocked Buenos Aires (English and Español)
This piece was also run on The Times of Israel. You can click below to read it there.
More from Adriana Camisar
I, along with B’nai B’rith Latin America Chair Mario Wilhelm, represented B’nai B’rith at the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Plenary, held in Buenos Aires from March 15 to 17, which gathered 400 delegates from Jewish communities and Jewish international organizations from all over the world. B’nai B’rith is a longstanding member of the WJC governing board.
Attendees witnessed the warmth of the Argentinean government as the host country to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. President Mauricio Macri and Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra were very clear in their statements and reaffirmed the commitment of their government to fight terrorism, to dig deeper into prosecutor Alberto Nisman´s case and to try to find what happened when the Israeli Embassy was bombed in 1992 and when the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building was bombed in 1994.
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes received the Shalom Award. Cartes did not sign a biased statement of Mercosur during the Gaza war in 2014. Cartes told Mercosur members that Paraguay is against biased statements which are not clear against Hamas terror. Since Cartes has been president, Paraguay has never voted against Israel in the United Nations and its agencies.
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned vigorously the hate crime in Uruguay against a Jewish community leader in Paysandu, Uruguay and underlined the commitment of OAS to fight all forms of terrorism.
We had the opportunity to talk briefly with Cartes and with Almagro.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett was also keynote speaker at the Plenary. He said very clearly that Israel has all the will to achieve peace, but peace with security and peace with seriousness, not peace with incitement and Hamas terror.
The last day of the meeting there were two events. One, a tribute to AMIA victims in AMIA headquarters and the ceremony of remembrance of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires 24 years ago. Bennett was the keynote speaker in the tribute to those who perished in the bombing of the embassy.
We had a conversation with Argentine Defense Minister Patricia Bullrich about anti-Semitism and the terrorist killing of a Jewish leader in Uruguay. We also had a conversation about anti-Semitism, Nazi pages of hate on the internet and other issues with Argentine Secretary of Human Rights Claudio Avruj.
We had a meeting with Uruguayan Ambassador in Argentina Hector Lezcano, and we mainly talked about the anti-Semitic killing in Uruguay, and the reaction of the government and the civil society. We also talked about the concern of the Argentinean government of the killing in Uruguay and its eventual links in the region.
We had a conversation with Israeli Ambassador in Argentina Dorit Shavit and with Israeli Ambassador in Paraguay Peleg Lewi, who was in the delegation of Cartes.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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