25 Years Without Justice: AJC’s AMIA Commemoration

Twenty-five years ago, on July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with over 600 pounds of nitrate fertilizer and explosives into the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) building – the central meeting place of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The explosion and resultant building collapse killed 85 people. The youngest was a 5 year old boy named Sebastian Barreiro, and the oldest was a 73 year old man named Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament. An additional 300 people were injured.

Argentina has the world’s sixth largest Jewish community, numbering about 230,000. The AMIA bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack that has ever happened in Argentina. Initially, local Argentinian antisemites were suspected of planning this attack. They were found to be not guilty of any involvement.

Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos, two Argentine prosecutors, were charged with conducting an investigation into the bombing. In 2006 they presented their formal accusation that the government of Iran directed the attack, and that Hezbollah, Iran’s military proxy in Lebanon, executed it.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015, was accused of covering up Iran’s involvement in the terrorist operation. Alberto Nisman was scheduled to testify against her in court. He was murdered in his home before he had the opportunity to reveal what he had discovered. Mrs. Kirchner is scheduled to be tried for her role in the coverup and abuse of power. No suspects have ever been convicted for the planning and execution of this terrorist attack.

Philadelphia’s Latino-Jewish Coalition of the American Jewish Committee presented a special program commemorating the 25th anniversary of the AMIA bombing. The keynote address was delivered by Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer. Mr. Isaacson reflected on both his personal experiences being in Argentina two days after the bombing, and AJC’s continuing efforts to bring the alleged perpetrators, Including Iran and Hezbollah, to justice. The event concluded with a special candle-lighting ceremony where the victims’ names were read by several dignitaries, including Alicia Falkowski, Argentina’s consul in Philadelphia.

Jews and Latinos: Natural Allies

This week the American Jewish Committee honored Sally Bleznak, the founder of the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition, with its Human Relations Award. Ms. Bleznak understood that Jews and Latinos have similar values and aspirations. She created a framework in which they could work together to help each other.

Mr. Juan Dircie, an assistant director at AJC, explained that many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States as refugees. Who better than the Jewish community to understand what that is like?

Family is central for Latin American immigrants. Many of them send a portion of their earnings to support the relatives they have left behind. When the whole family lives in the United States, the adults sacrifice to create better opportunities for their children. Like the Jews, the Latin American immigrants come here to work hard and fulfill the American Dream.

Some of the Latin Americans who immigrate to the United States are also Jews. They form a natural bridge between the American Jewish community and the Latino community.

According to Mr. Dircie, the majority of immigrants from all countries have legal status in the United States. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of them Latin American. Almost all of these undocumented immigrants are making a positive contribution to American society.

The AJC advocates for a fair immigration system that will ensure the security of the United States. The Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were minors, are of special interest. AJC advocates to provide them with an opportunity to become full members of society.

In order to successfully work together, AJC united the two communities by forming the Latino – Jewish Congressional Caucus. This is a bipartisan group that has worked on immigration reform and global anti-Semitism.

One of the highlights of the year for the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition is a model Passover Seder held in Miami. Hispanic leaders are invited to enjoy a service held in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Ladino. Along with the Haggadah, there are texts that highlight diversity, immigration, and acceptance. Most of the Latino guests, whose families came to the United States to escape persecution, had no idea that Jews celebrate freedom too. Many of them are surprised that the Seder ends with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” They remain attached to their countries of origin, and appreciate that all Jews have a 3,000-year old relationship with Israel.

The Latino community makes up 18.1% of the population of the United States, and it is growing. By focusing on common issues and shared values, Latinos and Jews can pave the way for a stronger collaboration.