July 23, 2020 — Philadelphia
Twenty-six years ago, in the center of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a powerful truck bomb destroyed the five-story AMIA Jewish Community Center. Jews, Catholics and others, of all ages, were among the 85 dead and 300 wounded.
“This was not an attack against the Jewish community only, it was an attack against Argentina,” Argentine President Alberto Fernandez told a global audience on an American Jewish Committee (AJC) Advocacy Anywhere online program ahead of the July 18 anniversary. “The victims, many of them, were members of the Jewish community. But they were Argentines first and foremost and it hurts us as such.”
In Philadelphia, Jews and Latinos gathered as we do annually to commemorate the victims, though this year, due to the pandemic, the ceremony organized by the AJC Philadelphia Latino-Jewish Coalition was conducted virtually. We read the names of each victim, said prayers, and again called out for justice. To this day, not one perpetrator of the horrific attack has been convicted.
For Daniel Schidlow, physician-in-chief at Drexel University and the Chair of Al Dia Doctors, the AMIA bombing is personal. Originally from Chile, he says the attack on AMIA reverberated across the region, sparking horror and disbelief for Jewish communities in other Latin American countries. “There is no more egregious violation of Latin American sovereignty than a political terrorist attack orchestrated by a foreign country,” said Schidlow, who also is a member of the AJC Philadelphia Board.
For Judge Nelson Diaz, a child of Puerto Rican immigrants and Founding Chairman of the AJC Latino-Jewish Coalition, it is both righteous and pragmatic for the Latino community to demand justice for AMIA. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If we don’t take care of them, there’s nobody left to take care of us.”
Painful is knowing who is responsible and, yet, the path to serving justice has been tortuous. In 2007, Alberto Nisman, then the Argentine government’s chief investigator of the AMIA bombing, concluded that Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah were directly responsible for the deadly attack. His detailed report led Interpol to issue Red Notices for the arrest of five Iranian officials, one of them a former defense minister, and a Hezbollah operative. Tragically, Nisman was murdered in January 2015, and, in this case, too, those responsible, have not been found.
The twists and turns in Argentina’s investigation have been complex, and generally depressing, as justice has not been served. But, in one sign of progress, a year ago, on the anniversary of the bombing, the Argentine government added Hezbollah to Argentina’s Registry of Terrorist Organizations and has taken steps to curtail the terrorist organizations activities in Argentina.
OAS Secretary-General Luis Amalgro, addressing the 2019 AJC Global Forum in Washington, denounced “Iran and Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, that have a solid base of operations in South America.” The AMIA bombing, he said, was the “worst terrorist act in the history of Argentina and the largest Jewish death toll from antisemitic terrorism outside Israel since World War II.”
Created by Iran in the early 1980s, and based in Lebanon, Hezbollah is a global threat. It seeks the annihilation of Israel, threatens Arab countries across the Middle East, operates in several European and Latin American countries, and has carried out terrorist attacks on several continents.
While the European Union mistakenly bifurcated Hezbollah in 2013 and recognized its “military wing” as a terrorist organization, but not the “political wing,” a distinction that not even Hezbollah makes, a concerted effort is underway to press countries, one by one, to reverse that action.
On April 30, Germany designated Hezbollah in its entirety, following on the earlier actions by the United States, Canada, Argentina, Israel, Honduras, the Netherlands, Paraguay, and the United Kingdom, as well as the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council.
“Hezbollah is not just an enemy of the Jews,” says Judge Diaz. “They are an enemy of the world.”
Concerted joint advocacy is needed to ensure that when we Jews and Latinos in Philadelphia gather next year on the AMIA anniversary it will not be only to preserve the memory of those who died, but to mark justice served.
Marcia Bronstein is Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey Region.