Israel-Argentina: The scars that never heal
There's no chemistry between Israel and Argentina. There have been few periods of calm in the tumultuous ties between the two countries since they were established in 1948, and there were times when relations were conducted with mutual distrust and suspicion.
Even when it seems that the two countries enjoy a friendly respite, an affair pops up that overshadows the ties. Such was the case at the end of last week, with the pronouncement of former Israeli Ambassador to Buenos Aires, Itzhak Aviran.
Aviran, who served as ambassador from 1993 to 2000, declared in an interview with Agencia Judía de Noticias, a Jewish-Argentine news agency, that those responsible for the 1994 terrorist attack on the Jewish community center (AMIA) "had already been eliminated by Israel."
A controversial statement such as Aviran's was sufficient for the foreign ministry in Jerusalem to issue a denial.
Such a statement is also very problematic for the Jewish community in Argentina, one of the largest in the world, because the severity of the remarks could contribute to Israel's demonization in Argentine public opinion. It could also contribute to the creation of endless new documents regarding the terror attack, since the Argentine prosecutor in the case, Alberto Nisman, will now demand clarifications from Aviran to determine whether they can help decipher the "Iranian aspect" of the investigation.
Aviran served during the first term of former President Carlos Menem, during which two of the worst terror attacks in 200 years of Argentine history occurred: the attack on the Israeli embassy in 1992 and the one on the Jewish community center two years later.
The Menem era is considered by most as a disastrous period for the state, especially as a result of the neo-liberal policy that led to an economic, political and social crisis from which Argentina is still recovering. Aviran, for his part, is considered by many as a strategic ally of the Menem regime.
This was enough for the current administration of Cristina Kirchner to activate its well-oiled communications mechanism and immediately theories about Israel killing the terrorists and knowingly sabotaging the investigation surfaced.
In addition, in that same interview Aviran complimented two controversial officials: former justice Juan José Galeano, the first judge to investigate the AMIA attack, and the commissioner of the Buenos Aires police, Jose "Pino" Palacios. Galeano was fired for bribing witnesses, making threats and tampering with evidence, whereas Palacios is under trial now for forgery, wiretapping of victims' families and delaying execution of a vitally important search warrant.
Aviran's surprising public support of these notorious figures could cause Israel grave damage, especially coming from a former diplomat. The fact that he is totally irrelevant in Israel's current establishment is not known in Argentina. Such a statement only further stirs the stormy Argentine political waters, a country polarized between government supporters and opponents.
In this sense, the big winner in this whole affair is the current administration, which, in trying with messianic enthusiasm to solve all of Argentina's problems, signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran less than a year ago, an agreement that many regard as a betrayal and an additional attempt to deny responsibility for one of the most complex cases in Argentina's judicial history.
Does anyone remember the name Timerman? Jacobo Timerman, a well-known and talented Jewish-Argentinian journalist, was arrested and tortured by the reviled military dictatorship in the 1970s. Israel attempted to free him and embassy officials even accompanied him to the plane that took him to Israel. His eldest son, Hector Timerman, is Argentina's foreign minister and is known for his hostile attitude toward Israel regarding its conflict with the Palestinians, accusation against Iran and more. He has already said that Aviran needs to clarify his remarks and added: "It's clear that Israel hid information. Aviran must clarify whether there were others involved in the attack who are still alive and provide Argentina with the information."
As of now, the only voices heard have been those of prosecutor Nisman, Foreign Minister Timerman and former ambassador Aviran. All Jews. All are involved.
This is an additional indication that the attacks in Buenos Aires are still considered attacks against Jews and not against Argentine society as a whole. Above all, what is needed is a process of social maturity. Argentinians still view Israel and Iran as responsible for dragging their disputes to their capital city. In this regard, statements such as Aviran's don't do anyone any good.
Mariano Man is an Argentinean journalist and online editor who wrote for Rolling Stone, Clarín, Makor Rishon and Forbes Argentina.