AMIA: Still Demanding Justice

By Max Carp, AJC Philadelphia/SNJ intern

Liliana Ines Friesel Elkouss grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Today she lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where she has

Photo by La Nación

found American Jewish Committee (AJC) helpful in staying connected to her heritage. She also plays an important role in AJC’s annual AMIA program, offering an Argentine perspective on the horrific bombing of the Jewish community building perpetrated by Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah on July 18, 1994, that killed 85, and injured 300.

“Every year I am thankful for AJC’s commemoration,” says Elkuoss. “Yet the plague of impunity hits me hard on the face as it slaps me over and over.”

A plague of impunity is an apt description. To this day, not a single perpetrator of the heinous atrocity has faced any consequences. The 2014 Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and Iran (later struck down by Argentine courts) granted Iran a role in adjudicating the perpetrators of an attack its own leaders orchestrated. And the 2015 murder of Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor investigating the attack, on the day before his scheduled testimony, was heartbreaking. Argentina, and the world, lost a great champion of justice “The wound definitely intensified,” said Elkouss, “when we were cheated out of justice on the horizon.”

“The AMIA bombing exemplifies the worst consequences of the inseparable connection between Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah’s military operations and its goals,” said Marcia Bronstein, AJC Regional Director. AJC is working with governments across Europe and Latin America to designate Hezbollah in its entirety a terrorist organization. To date, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Israel, Honduras, Paraguay, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, as well as the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council have designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. And AJC continues to press all EU member states to correct the error they made in 2013, by recognizing only the so-called “military wing”, and not its “political wing” as a terrorist organization. Even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said there is no distinction; Hezbollah is one.

The AMIA bombing, which came two years after the deadly bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, was part of Hezbollah’s perpetual reminder to the Jewish people: no matter where you are, you are not safe. As part of a national group of communal workers who spent time in Argentina after the AMIA bombing, Bronstein remembers a pledge she made to the leadership there that until there is justice for AMIA, we will tell the story and demand action. The current Argentinian government has resumed investigating the government collaborators who impeded justice for decades.

When Elkouss reflects on the attack, she mourns for the extinguished human potential. “They had names, families, children, friends, and they had plans for the future which for them never came through,” she said. At AJC, we will shed tears for these victims on July 18, when we honor their memory for the 26th year in a row.

Our plea to the world hasn’t changed: Justice for AMIA.

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.

Speaking Out for the Voiceless

The Honorable Irwin Cotler was the Keynote Speaker at the American Jewish Committees’s Murray Friedman annual lecture. Murray Friedman was a passionate advocate for human rights and this program honored his memory. Professor Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament, and an international human rights lawyer.

Mr. Cotler is passionate about the struggle for human rights of minorites all over the world. He has worked tirelessly for the protection of human rights internationally. His mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. Mr. Cotler discussed the human rights abuses occurring in Venezuela, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia. He decried the world’s indifference to the suffering of political prisoners and genocides of persecuted minorities.

Mr. Cotler described the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under the guise of human rights. He described the selective use of words and images to present Israel as a human rights abusing nation that should not exist. According to Mr. Cotler, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is populated by human rights violators. There is a culture of impunity, in which only Israel is condemned internationally, while other countries are ignored. With the passage of time, this condemnation becomes internalized, accepted, and adopted by journalists, academics, and politicians around the world.

What is to be done? Mr. Cotler believes that it is our individual and collective responsibility to speak on behalf of the voiceless. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of indifference to suffering just because it is occurring far away from us.

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

AJC Brings Innovative High School Program to Philadelphia

By Max Buchdahl

When Ryan Berger was about to enter his sophomore year of high school, the current University of Pennsylvania freshman watched coverage of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas with nervous eyes. He was surrounded by people he cared about who had differing opinions on the war — and he wanted answers.

So Berger asked his mother, who is involved with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in New York, what he could do to learn more about the issues. He wanted to know how a high-schooler, with little expertise but a large desire to get involved, could advocate effectively on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. [Read more…]

Soviet Jewry Movement and the 30th Anniversary of Freedom Sunday

AJC is proud to partner on a special program for Young Leaders commemorating the Soviet Jewry Movement and the 30th Anniversary of Freedom Sunday.
Connie Smukler and her family risked their lives and livelihoods to protect the rights of strangers on the other side of the world.  Join us on December 7 as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union interviews the woman who made his journey to America possible.

6:00 pm  Light kosher refreshments & networking
6:30 pm  Program: Dmitry Goldenberg interview with Connie Smukler followed by Audience Q&A
7:30 pm  Access to the Museum’s new panel exhibition, Power of Protest: The Movement to Free Soviet Jews

Note: The panel exhibition is on view at the museum through January 15, 2018.

Religious Pluralism in Israel – What are the Stakes for American Jewry?

AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ invites the community to attend this timely lecture.

Featuring:
Dr. Steven Bayme, director of the William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life Department at AJC and the Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations.

Program followed by coffee and refreshments. Free and open to the public.

Please pre-register at the event website.

Canaries in the Coal Mine: French Jews Face Anti-Semitism

Simone Rodan Benzaquen - Resized and Compressed“The French Jews are the canary in the coal mine,” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen told me. Ms. Benzaquen, the director of the American Jewish Committee in Europe, related that anti-Semitism in Western Europe is a very serious problem. Europe is the laboratory for how to contend with it in 2016. If the fight against anti-Semitism fails in Europe, it will fail in the United States as well.

Anti-Semitism is a crisis for liberal democracies. The members of the extreme left (anti-Zionists), the members of the extreme right, and some parts of the Muslim community have found common cause. They all hate Jews. This crisis starts with the Jews, but it doesn’t end there.

The Centrist parties are not discussing the problems within the Muslim community due to political correctness. The Populist parties are filling the void by asking the right questions. They are addressing the issues of integration, Islamism, and how to make Islam compatible with democratic values.

What can the Centrist parties do? Ms. Benzaquen suggested several solutions. First, they must speak out clearly. They need to call Islamist extremism what it is and identify the sources of the problems.

The educational system offers an opportunity to impact young pupils and shape the future adults of France. During the past several years, students have refused to learn about the Holocaust in certain neighborhoods. Their teachers retreated because they were afraid of being attacked. France needs to invest the resources to train teachers in new methodologies so they can deal with these issues. Holocaust education is important for them because it illustrates how a society can behave and how individuals can choose to behave. It is an opportunity to teach tolerance, and to accept diversity.

France does not recognize individual communities; everyone is French. In order to counter Islamic radicalization, the authorities must reach out to the Muslim community to spot signs of radicalization. It is only then that they can begin to contend with it.

One of the most effective ways that the Islamic radicals influence and recruit young people is with social media. In France, speech is free, within limits. The French government can shut down social media sites due to incitement. The platforms used by these Islamists are based in the United States. Initially, the US-based companies did not feel that they were obligated to comply with French laws. The European Commission passed a law that requires social media companies to follow European laws in order to be available there. This has made it easier for the French authorities to shut down sites dedicated to Islamic radicalization.

The signs in Europe point to a worrisome future in the United States. The Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement on university campuses and the expression of anti-Semitism online are creating a hostile environment for Jews. We live in a globalized world. There is no escaping anti-Semitism by moving from country to country. What kind of world do we want?