AMIA and Minority Insecurity: How Do We Attack Corruption?

A few days ago, I took my students to visit AMIA, the Jewish community center of Buenos Aires, Argentina, that was bombed in 1994, leaving 85 killed and hundreds injured. It was heart-wrenching to hear the personal stories only a few days after the attack at the school in Toulouse.

It is crucial when minorities are attacked anywhere in the world that everything possible is done to help them feel safe and that the justice system makes clear that these attacks are never tolerated. Because there was no justice in Argentina and no one went to jail, the community still feels very vulnerable and insecure. When minorities are attacked, due to anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc., it is not only an attack upon individuals but upon the whole group, making all feel vulnerable. We cannot only speak up when it is our own people and sites attacked. Hate and violence must be condemned wherever it pokes its head.

According to 2010 FBI statistics on 8,208 hate crime victims, 48% were victimized due to race, 19% due to religion, and 19% due to sexual orientation. In racial bias, 70% of victims were black; in religious bias, 67% of victims were Jews, and nearly 13% were Muslims (a rising figure); in sexual-orientation crimes, nearly all victims were homosexuals and lesbians. 

Corruption is more difficult to quantify. Transparency International monitors perceived corruption on a worldwide basis (with 0 as most corrupt and 10 as least corrupt), and the results may surprise you. According to its Corruption Perceptions Index 2011, The United States only ranks 24th (7.1 score), behind most of Western Europe, Japan, Barbados, Qatar, and Chile. Israel fares worse, at 36th (5.8 score), behind Uruguay, the United Arab Emirates, and Botswana. However, both are significantly less corrupt than Argentina, which is in a twelve-way tie for 100th place with its dismal 3.0 score.

While we cannot state that there is a direct correlation between a government’s level of corruption and its ability or willingness to combat hate crimes, it is probable that a more corrupt society will not successfully prosecute these crimes. For example, no one has ever been convicted of the AMIA attack, and the Argentinean government has come under scrutiny for incompetence and corruption in mishandling the investigation. While this is discouraging, our disillusionment with politics cannot lead us to disengage. We must continue to attack corruption proactively. Governments that allow for corruption, intolerance, and injustice must be challenged. We can tolerate political difference, but we cannot tolerate scandals and corruptions.

In Argentina, I spoke with Rabbi Ernesto Yattah, a community leader working to address governmental corruption. Others here told me that almost everyone cheats on their taxes, pays bribes, and accepts the corruption, and just lives with it. Rabbi Yattah is calling upon Jews to reverse this cycle. He told me that first we must understand corruptology (how corruption permeates society) so we can address it systemically. The word “corrupt,” from the Latin corruptus (meaning “abused” or “destroyed”), connotes something that is “utterly broken.” It is a critical defect in any society.

According to what Rabbi Yattah called “the politics of inclusion,” corrupt politicians make society more corrupt so that they alone are not blamed. For example, they often ensure that the police force is corrupt, operating through bribes. When corruption is systemic, everyone just throws their arms in their air, enabling corrupt politicians to benefit from the inertia. When we attack the peripheral manifestations of corruption, we are attacking the base as well.

Combating is rarely easy or risk-free. According to “the politics of reflection,” one standing up to corruption has to be willing to face countercharges that he or she is also corrupt. When you fight corruption, the established force will come back at you with ten times the strength. Nevertheless, we know that corruption can be overcome. The Book of Genesis (6:12), for example, describes a world before the flood where “everyone on earth was corrupt.” In a post-flood world, order was achieved.

Today, no problem can be ignored or relegated to others who face corruption in remote areas as the world is now too interconnected to live with the veil of isolation. Just as an economic crisis in Asia or South America affects Europe, so too, hatred anywhere in the world is a threat to all. Corruption is a force that creates insecurity, fear, and a foundation for injustice. We cannot look away from it. Thus, the role of the Jew in the public square is to be a voice of conscience, challenging those who shatter social trust, and in support of all victims of injustice.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Director of Jewish Life & the Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel and a 6th year doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.