B’nai B’rith International remembers the 21st anniversary of the bombing attack on the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building—the Jewish center—in Buenos Aires. As we move farther away from that fateful day of July 18, 1994, when 85 people were killed and 300 were wounded in the blast, the story only becomes uglier and more complicated. The mysterious death of the prosecutor assigned to the case, Alberto Nisman, this past January only added to the perpetual uncertainly of resolving this case.
B’nai B’rith participated in remembrance activities in Buenos Aires on July 16 and 17, with leaders and representatives of government, religion and non-governmental organizations from across Latin America descending on the Argentine capital to reflect on the past and discuss prospects for the future of the case.
On July 16 B’nai B’rith Director of Latin America Affairs Eduardo Kohn joined participants from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Perú, Uruguay and Venezuela to engage in roundtable discussions on a variety of topics, hosted by the Latin American Jewish Congress. B’nai B’rith Latin America Chair and Chilean Jewish community president Leon Cohen joined Kohn in Buenos Aires, as did Paraguay Jewish community chair and B’nai B’rith mentor Jack Fleischman.
Topics covered included AMIA case and the lack of justice 21 years removed from the bombing, the pervasive threat of the Islamic State, and new strategies and challenges for Jewish communities in Latin American and beyond.
For the discussion of the AMIA bombing, attendees heard from Sofía Guterman, whose daughter, Andrea, perished in the bombing. During the ISIS roundtable Catholic nun Maria de Guadalupe Rodrigo addressed participants, having spent the last five years in Aleppo, Syria at a Catholic mission. She talked about the horrifying experiences she witnessed in the midst of the brutal civil war in Syria and lamented the conflict truly looks hopeless unless the international community decides to intervene in the war and take on the Islamic State head on.
Following a full day of productive talks, Kohn then attended a dinner and met with the Israeli Ambassador to Argentina Dorit Shavit.
On July 17, Kohn attended the annual commemoration ceremony along with tens of thousands of others at the site of the AMIA building with a moment of silence at 9:53 a.m. local time, marking the exact moment of the explosion.
Among those represented and in attendance, it was an absence that was most notable. For the first time in the 21 years since the bombing, shamefully, there were no members of the government at the commemoration, nor where there any officials from the Buenos Aires’ governor’s office.
Those who were present at the commemoration included Shavit, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Noah Mamet, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer and several Argentinian congressmen.
The huge crowds, filling the streets around the site, were spurred by the death of the AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, just one day before he was set to formally testify in the Argentine congress against Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman. Nisman would have alleged they offered Iran impunity before jointly creating the “Commission of Truth,” designed to find those responsible for the attack.
The most dramatic moment of the morning came from a very short and very clear message delivered by Lara Nisman, Alberto’s oldest daughter, pleading to the crowd: "Help me to find out the truth, help me against those who are insulting my father. My father can’t defend himself. Please help me and my sister."
“In the 21 years since the worst terror attack in the history of South America, it’s amazing how we’re still sorting through the lies and deception of this case,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “Alberto Nisman’s death was a huge blow to the procurement of justice and only added another murky layer to this seemingly never-ending story. But we will fight on, vowing to never forget the victims and committing ourselves to ultimately shining a light on the truth of this horrific crime.”
The current chapter of the AMIA-saga goes back to 2005 when then-President Néstor Kirchner issued a decree accepting the state’s share of the blame for the disastrous inaction and incompetent inquiry into the bombing, and assigned Nisman to review the case. Nisman heroically and doggedly followed evidence in the terror attack wherever it led, including detailing how top Iranian leaders including Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s president at the time, and Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s current minister of defense, ordered Hezbollah to kill Jews in Buenos Aires.
Despite the mountain of evidence pointing to the regime in Tehran as the perpetrators behind the attack, in 2012 Iran and Argentina signed a “Memorandum of Understanding,” creating a supposed “independent” group to investigate the 1994 bombing. It’s a farcical arrangement that still holds no promise of justice.
But Nisman continued to dig. And this time last year, it appeared that he was onto something big. Why? The Argentine government barred him from travelling to the United States to testify before the U.S. Congress on the investigation. Fast forward to January 2015 when Nisman filed a complaint against Kirchner and Timerman.
The day before he was scheduled to speak before the Argentine congress about these enormous and pointed allegations, he was found dead in his apartment under mysterious circumstances. B’nai B’rith closely followed Nisman’s investigation over the years and strongly supported his efforts. His death created a gaping void in the pursuit of terrorists.
“Every year B’nai B’rith commemorates the AMIA anniversary, but this year is particularly difficult due to the death of Alberto Nisman. It seems with his death, the quest for justice in this case has been partially extinguished, for the time being. To lose a man committed to truth and closure for the victims’ families is truly heartbreaking,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “But his death is also a reminder that we must continue on, we must continue to fight those who seek to obfuscate what truly happened on July 18, 1994."