The Zionist argument has always been that only when the Jews have their own state will they be safe from anti-semitism. The Zionist movement proved a disaster during the holocaust, but at least it could claim that the problem lay in its failure to attain statehood in time. In Argentina there was no such excuse.
An anti-semitic junta was in power in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. The Jewish population constituted less than 1% of the population. Yet up to 10% of those who were murdered and tortured were Jewish. But the junta also had warm relationships with Israel, who supplied them with some $1 billion of military equipment.
Marcel Zohar was a correspondent for the Israeli paper, Yediot Aharanot, in Argentina between 1978 and 1982. He described how the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency "refrained from processing immigration applications from Jews with a leftwing background, in order to preserve Israel's good business and political links with the ruling junta".1 The Argentine junta was on good terms with the US administration. So was Israel. Cooperation between them was natural. And Israel, which had always seen socialists and communists as their enemy, had no desire to rescue Jewish leftists.
Yitzhak Mualem of Bar Ilan university, explained Israel's underlying policy: "While the Jewish factor2 has an effect on Israeli foreign policy, it is not a decisive one. It is not the only consideration nor the main one taken into account in the policy calculations of the Israeli government. The heritage of David Ben-Gurion determined that 'in our relations [with foreign countries] we should be guided by one criteria "¦ and that is whether it is good for the Jews'3 "¦. According to Ben-Gurion's national approach, the state constitutes the highest goal of Zionism and the Jewish people. He did not ignore the problems of the Jews in the diaspora, but nevertheless saw the goals of the diaspora as secondary to the goals of the state "¦"4
Unravelling this doublespeak is illuminating. Ben-Gurion's policy in relation to other countries was determined by "whether it is good for the Jews". What he really meant was that what was good for the Jewish state is good for Jews: "The state constitutes the highest goal of Zionism and the Jewish people." This state worship is redolent of fascism, for whom the state is the ultimate expression of the national ideal.
Yossi Sarid, leader of the Zionist Meretz Party, described how "In Argentina, Israel sold even the Jews for the price of its immediate interests." According to Yossi Sarid, this was done by not arousing international and Jewish public opinion about the fact of the disappearance and arrest of young Jews in that country.5
The American Jewish Congress sent a delegation to Roberto Viola, president of Argentina, which declared itself "impressed with general Viola's knowledge of Jewish affairs". Viola even promised an end to the distribution of neo-Nazi papers such as Papeles, which proclaimed Buenos Aires to be the "capital of the Aryan world."6 The AJC's clean bill of health for Viola was in marked contrast to its attitude to the Sandinistas, whom it charged with "anti-semitism". According to rabbi Rosenthall of the Anti-Defamation League "Nicaraguan Jews blame the longstanding close ties between the Sandinistas and the PLO."7
Hugh O'Shaughnessy reported from Buenos Aires that the appearance of Papeles, alongside the equally virulent Cabildo, "is seen here as an indication that the military government of general Viola is stepping up its campaign against Argentina's 300,000 Jews. At a time when no newspaper seller would risk trying to sell any magazine of the outlawed left or the combative wing of the Peronist movement, the continuing circulation of fascist and anti-semitic magazines with the connivance of the authorities is regarded as underlining the growth of extreme tendencies in the Videla government ...
"Earlier this year bombs exploded in various Argentine synagogues and Jewish schools and there were threats of violence against Jews generally. No culprits have been found ... The Daia, a confederation of Jewish organisations, is generally unwilling to make public statements."8
Jacobo Timmerman was the editor of La Opinià³n newspaper and a liberal Zionist. Arrested and tortured, he was expelled to Israel in October 1979. Timmerman denounced the collaboration of Daia: "I would forget my torturers, I declared, but never the Jewish leaders who acquiesced calmly in the torturing of Jews."9 Amongst Timmerman's charges was that "the Argentine Jewish community served the regime as a Judenrat, silently acquiescing in the violence against thousands of citizens, Jews and non-Jews". to which a "Jewish personality" replied that "representations were made at least once a month to the Argentine leaders".10
José Smilg, in his 'Letter from Buenos Aires', explained that "intermarriage and assimilation remain the greatest threat to Jewish survival in Latin America".11 It was Timmerman's fight from abroad for human rights which "is considered one of the main factors inspiring a rash of anti-semitic articles in the Argentine press".12 Seven thousand people gathered in Buenos Aires to protest at anti-semitism in a meeting "organised by the Argentine Jewish Movement for Human Rights. Among those taking part was Mr Adolfo Perez Esquirel, the Argentine 1980 Nobel peace prize winner. Daia, Argentine Jewry's political representative body, boycotted the event, which it said was dangerous ..."13
After the fall of the junta, Amia held its 90th anniversary celebration: "A group of women whose children disappeared during the Argentine military regimes crackdown on leftwing opponents shouted 'Nazi, Nazi' at those attending the congress "¦ The protesters claimed that Israel, Amia and Daia - the political representative body of Argentine Jewry - had done nothing to help the desaparecidos (disappeared ones) ... The guest of honour was Mr Itzhak Navon, formerly president of Israel. The mothers attempted to prevent his entrance to the conference as well as that of the Israeli ambassador to Argentina."14.