How the rabbi who never knew Alberto Nisman became his family’s pastor


In January 2015, Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff was stuck in Buenos Aires when his phone rang.

He’d been planning a trip to New York but a storm had canceled all flights, and Polakoff, the rabbi of Cordoba, a province in central Argentina, was cooling his heels at his sister’s house.

A woman he didn’t know was on the line. She introduced herself by saying that she remembered him from a wedding he’d performed for a friend of hers, and asked if he could help her family in Buenos Aires.

Polakoff did not know Nisman, but the call brought the rabbi into a circle of private mourning, public outrage and global intrigue over an event that made headlines around the world.

Nisman was 51 at his death. He left behind a formidable tribe of women: his mother, Sara Garfunkel; her sister, the psychologist Lidia Garfunkel; a sister, Sandra Nisman; and his former wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, the mother of their daughters Iara, who was 15 at the time of her father’s death, and Kala, who was 8.

When the cousin called Polakoff, their usual rabbi was out of town. In fact, half the Nisman family was out of town. Polakoff was asked to accompany Nisman’s mother to identify his body.

Argentine law stipulates that a body must be formally identified before burial. On the day of his death, Sara Garfunkel had been taken by jittery police officers to Nisman’s apartment, where she was the first to see his lifeless body splayed on the bathroom floor in a pool of drying blood.

Ten days later, she was asked to view the body again at the city morgue.

“You can’t imagine,” Polakoff, 49, the president of the Latin American Rabbinical Assembly, told JTA. “Sandra [Nisman’s sister] decided not to enter, and Sara asked me to accompany her. Of course, it was very complex and difficult. But this is what rabbis do.”

Polakoff uses his hands to frame a smallish oval on his face. That is what he was able to see of Alberto Nisman’s face when they were called upon to identify the body.

“The magnitude of an event like this can unfocus you,” said Polakoff, who had not told his story before speaking to JTA. “During this year and a bit, I’ve tried not to lose focus and to attempt to simply accompany the family. It is paradoxical that I didn’t meet Alberto Nisman alive. Incredibly, lamentably, it came to me to see him only in death.”

Polakoff also served as shomer, or guardian, of Nisman’s body at the funeral home in the hours before a public wake – a custom of Argentine Jewry distinct from the shiva.

“I was there alone with the coffin for a few hours — well, ‘alone,’” he said. “The streets were blocked off, there were barriers up, guards, snipers, helicopters, attack dogs, anti-terror vehicles.

“Later on, when people started streaming in, there was a waitress, not Jewish, who worked there who’d seen me since I slipped in, who came up to me sobbing, crying rivers of tears. She grabbed my arm and said, ‘Rabbi, I am incensed. I feel desperate. Did you see the deployment out there, even snipers on the roof?’ She’d noticed even that. A waitress. ‘If the prosecutor had had this kind of security two weeks ago, we wouldn’t be here today.’ Sobbing.”

For years, Nisman had received threats to his life and to the well-being of his family. His friends to this day aren’t certain if he was fully aware he was endangering his life by investigating Iran’s role in the bombing of the AMIA community center or in accusing Kirchner of covering it up.

Nisman was protected around the clock by a detail of the Argentine Federal Police. On Jan. 18, 2015, for unknown reasons, they refused to break down his door for the better part of a day when he stopped answering his phone.

Now his family is guarded by officers of the same security force.

“It’s a different government,” friends of the family point out, accurately but without conviction.

On Jan. 29, 2015, the hearse’s slow journey to the Jewish cemetery of La Tablada was interrupted by people jumping into the middle of street shouting “Nisman!” or “Argentina!” or both. Others threw flowers onto the car.

“At one point, while I was riding in the hearse towards the burial, someone jumped out and kissed the car, and it was then that I allowed myself to react, a little,” Polakoff said. “It was unbelievable, unbelievable.”

As part of his eulogy, Polakoff told a story directed at Kala, Nisman’s younger daughter. It was about a little boy her age who liked asking his rabbi tough questions. One day he asked why crocodiles, so ugly and dangerous, live so long, compared to butterflies, which are so pretty and benign.

“I don’t know,” the rabbi answered. “But I do know a crocodile can’t achieve in 1,000 years what a butterfly achieves in two weeks.”

Kala read aloud a letter to her father that ended “Bye Daddy, I’ll see you when I die.”

In January of this year, Mauricio Macri, the newly elected president of Argentina, invited the two Nisman girls to his home to mark the anniversary of their father’s death. Their mother was abroad, so they went with Polakoff.

“It was the two Macris with Antonia, their 4-year-old little girl and the three of us,” the rabbi recalled. “I read Psalm 23 and ‘El Maleh Rachamim’ and explained what it meant to the president.”

The president’s office tweeted an image of the gathering that went viral alongside the message that Macri promised the Nisman girls “there will be justice.”

Last month, a Buenos Aires court ruled that the investigation into Nisman’s death must be handled by a federal court, under the assumption that “the death of Natalio Alberto Nisman could also be a result of the act of a third party.”

Despite the tragic and tabloid-ready circumstances of Nisman’s death, Polakoff said he tries not to view it as anything but a particular family’s loss.

“When death comes early, is violent and has national and international significance, it should be indistinguishable” from any other, from a rabbi’s point of view, he said.

“Because for the person who has lost a loved one too early and violently, no matter what other transcendence the event may have … it is the same to me whoever is the person who died.”

Argentine president ‘determined’ to discover truth of Nisman’s death


Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he is “determined” to discover the truth about the death of AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

“Everything that happened made us look weak in the world,” Macri told The Associated Press as part of a long-ranging interview published Thursday. “But now we are determined to bring what happened to light.”

The Argentine judiciary has not yet determined whether Nisman’s shooting death in January 2015 was a homicide or suicide.

Macri discussed the Nisman case and the 1994 Jewish center bombing, as well as the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy, during his address Tuesday night to the opening gala of the Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress in Buenos Aires. Both attacks in the Argentine capital remain unresolved.

“Here, we suffer the ravaging consequences of two bomb attacks. We are still in the dark of what happened,” Macri declared, adding: “We are fully committed to contribute in any way we can to make headway with this investigation.”

He also reminded his audience that his government, during its first week in power in December, voided an agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the AMIA bombing, calling it “unconstitutional.”

“A year ago the [AMIA bombing] prosecutor dies, a prosecutor that was trying to elucidate one of these attacks, and he prepared a very tough accusation about why we actually signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran that he believes was unconstitutional,” Macri said at the dinner.

Nisman was found dead hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the AMIA Jewish center bombing, which left 85 dead and hundreds wounded.

The federal Criminal Appeals Court will hold a hearing Friday to decide which court should be given jurisdiction over the Nisman case. A political murder case must be handled by the federal courts.

On Wednesday, the WJC plenary assembly held a tribute to Nisman led by Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff, who shared the stage with Nisman’s mother, Sara Garfunkel; his ex-wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, and his daughter, Iara.

The assembly, which is being held this week for the first time in Latin America, is scheduled to end Thursday with the delegates attending a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the embassy attack.

Argentine prosecutor asks court to reopen Nisman complaint against ex-president


A federal prosecutor has asked an Argentine court to reopen the complaint filed by the late special prosecutor Alberto Nisman charging that former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing.

The prosecutor, Raul Plee, filed a request Monday to reopen the case with the Federal Criminal Cassation Court.

On Monday, just after the new government voided the Argentine pact with Iran to jointly investigate the AMIA attack, Plee asked the justices to analyze new information collected during the case about the unconstitutionality of the Iran memorandum with an eye toward reviving Nisman’s theory that the pact was a bid to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing.

According to the state-run news agency Telam, Plee wrote in his request that during hearings about the unconstitutionality of the pact, the Foreign Ministry presented “secret and confidential” documents that could be considered useful to reactivate Nisman’s accusation against Kirchner, her Jewish former foreign minister, Hector Timerman, and others.

The prosecutor asked that the secret and confidential files be sent to prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita and to the judge, Daniel Rafecas. Pollicita was the prosecutor who took over Nisman’s accusation after his death and presented it to the court in February. Rafecas dismissed the accusation, saying it could not be sustained by the evidence.

Nisman was found dead on Jan. 18, hours before he was to present his allegations to Congress against Kirchner, Timerman and others. Whether his shooting death was murder or self-inflicted has yet to be determined.

Also Monday, during a ceremony in which he officially took office, the new president of the DAIA Jewish political umbrella, Ariel Cohen Sabban, said the circumstances surrounding Nisman’s death “should be clarified.”

“We demand a full clarification of this crime, which is surrounded by doubts and unanswered suspicions,” he said in his first speech as DAIA president.

Cohen Sabban is the first Orthodox Jew to head the Argentine Jewish political umbrella in its 80-year history.

New Argentine president pledges to cancel pact with Iran on AMIA bombing


The newly elected president of Argentina said he will cancel the agreement signed with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, as he vowed during the campaign.

“We will propose to the Congress to cancel the pact with Iran as we promised in the campaign,” Mauricio Macri said Monday morning in his first news conference after being elected in a runoff vote the previous day.

Macri, the opposition candidate, will take office on Dec. 10. He won the runoff with 51.4 percent of the vote, defeating Daniel Scioli, a close ally of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who garnered 48.6 percent, according to the final results released Monday.

The agreement has been criticized by Israel and Argentina’s Jews, among others. Iran has been accused of being behind the AMIA bombing, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Macri has a recent history of close relations with Argentine Jewry and Israel.

As mayor of  Buenos Aires City, the country’s capital, Macri’s government implemented a plan to support incubators and start-ups inspired by the Israeli “Start-Up Nation” model. Local entrepreneurs visited Israel to learn how to market themselves globally, and they described their experiences on the city government’s website.

In June 2014, he traveled to Israel to participate in a mayors’ conference in Jerusalem, where he offered his support to Israel against terrorism.

“Israeli suffering has to be understood. From afar, it is easy to give advice, but you have to be in Israel to really understand the situation,” he told journalists.

Macri’s new political party, PRO, leads Argentina’s Let’s Change coalition. In 2011, the center-right party picked Rabbi Sergio Bergman to head the ticket for municipal elections. In 2013, Bergman was tapped by Macri to run for the national legislature, which he won, becoming the first rabbi to serve as a national lawmaker in the country. Macri also has ties to other Jewish candidates.

On Election Day, Macri played in a soccer game with his friends against the over-45 team that will represent Argentina at the next Pan-American Maccabi Games in Chile. The president’s team defeated the Jewish squad, 4 to 1.

New tests negate possibility of Nisman suicide


The results of new tests on the gun believed to have killed Alberto Nisman appear to negate the possibility that the AMIA special prosecutor committed suicide.

Experts confirmed that three laboratory analyses performed on the gun tested positive for traces of gunpowder residue, according to new information released Monday. The .22 caliber Bersa that killed Nisman detected antimony, barium and lead in the electronic scans performed at the Scientific Laboratory of Tax Investigation, in the northern province of Salta.

A test performed in February on the prosecutor’s hands had detected no gunpowder residue.

The new tests seem to support the theory that someone else shot Nisman or cleaned the prosecutor’s hand. Some experts also said Monday that if the environmental conditions of the tests had slight changes, the results could be different.

“This is conclusive proof about the murder,” Nisman’s former wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, who is a judge, said Tuesday in an interview with Radio Mitre. “After this test, to argue that this is a suicide, you must say that Nisman shot himself with gloves and after that he took them off.”

In July, forensic pathologist Cyril Wech analyzed the case and said he believes that Nisman likely was murdered.

Prosecutor Viviana Fein has not yet released a final ruling.

“I cannot determine for the moment whether it was a suicide or a homicide,” she said on March 6, when she convened the authors of the independent forensic report to examine their evidence. Her final ruling likely will be released after the October presidential elections.

Nisman’s body was found on Jan. 18, hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 dead and hundreds wounded.

Iranian suspect in AMIA bombing denies involvement, cites ‘influence of ‘Zionism’


An Iranian suspect in the 1994 attack on the Buenos Aires AMIA Jewish center denied that his country was involved and blamed Argentina for being “under the influence of Zionism.”

The accusation against Iran made by Argentina’s Justice Department “is unfounded, false and a lie,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister in Iran, said in an interview Monday in Tehran. “Argentina should not be an instrument of Zionist politics. Argentina isn’t in the position to interrogate us, they should give us an answer over their weakness before Israel and the United States.”

The AMIA bombing has come under renewed scrutiny following the mysterious death in January of investigator Alberto Nisman.

“We call on Argentina not to be an instrument of the Zionists,” Velayati, who served as the foreign minister from 1981 to 1997, when attacks on both the AMIA Jewish center and on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires occurred, told the Argentine TV news channel C5N. “Here in this region the Zionists don’t have the courage to do anything against Iran, so they provoke others” to act against Iran.

“The enmity of Zionists against Iran is very clear,” added Velayati, currently the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research.

Asked if he will testify as is called for in the memorandum of understanding between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the AMIA bombing, Velayati replied, “Argentina isn’t in a position to question officials of an independent country.”

The interviews with Velayati and Mohsen Rabbani, the former Iranian cultural attache in Argentina who also is a suspect in the bombing, were aired Monday night on a program called “MinutoUno.” C5N is a private channel run by Cristobel Lopez, a businessman close to the national government.

Argentina’s Justice Department has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, which killed 85 and injured 300. Iran also is believed to be behind the 1992 car bombing that destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242. No arrests have been made in either case.

Nisman, who first made the accusation against Iran and later alleged that Argentina’s president and other government ministers covered up Iran’s role in the bombing, was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 16, hours before he was to present his allegations to Congress. Argentine courts have dismissed Nisman’s claims against the government for lack of evidence.

Alberto Nisman was a ‘scoundrel,’ Argentinian Cabinet chief tells reporters


Argentinian Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernandez  called the late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman  a “scoundrel” and  a “wretch.”

Nisman “embezzled  public funds” using money meant to fund the AMIA special unit in order “to go out with women” and “to pay workers who did not work,” Fernandez told journalists Wednesday before entering the Government House.

Fernandez on Thursday clarified through the state news agency Telam that in his statements the previous day he was not referring to the late Alberto Nisman’s private life, but talking about his actions that have “penal significance,” such as the misuse of public funds or withholding half the salary of an employee.

Diego Lagomarsino, who has been charged in Nisman’s death for lending Nisman the handgun that was used to kill him, has through an attorney accused the prosecutor of withholding half of his wages.

On Wednesday, Argentine philosopher and writer Santiago Kovadloff responded to the Cabinet chief. “When you attack a dead man and discredit him in the way he did, it’s because that dead man is alive. If he’s alive, it’s because he’s has a great deal of significance. Because he has a great deal of significance, you have to discredit him,” Kovadloff said at the first of planned monthly rallies to remember Nisman, attended by about 200 people.

Nisman, who was Jewish, was found dead on Jan. 18, hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires.

Kirchner: AMIA and embassy bombings were ‘collateral damage’


Argentina’s president called the deadly attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994 and the attack on the Israeli Embassy in 1992 “collateral damages in a war in which we had never been part, nor want to be.”

The comments by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, published in an article on her website, were a response to the citing of the attacks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech Tuesday to the U.S. Congress as examples of Iran exporting its terrorism overseas.

“Yesterday, March 3, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel convened by the Republican Party spoke before the U.S. Congress,” Kirchner wrote. “His speech had only one goal: to prevent President Barack Obama from reaching any kind of agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.”

She noted, “The Israeli premier mentioned, among other arguments: ‘Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.’”

Kirchner then recalled how she and her late husband, former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, fingered Iran for the attacks. The AMIA bombing killed 85 people and was Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack; the bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires left 29 dead.

She lamented what she called the politicization of the AMIA attack, saying that the AMIA case has become “a chess game of international geopolitics and national policy.”

She wrote, “Dates, facts and strategies that have nothing to do with the justice deserved by the 85 victims of the AMIA, their families and our country. For some, Argentina and AMIA are just collateral damage in a war that never went anywhere.”

She also pointed out that Netanyahu’s address to Congress came just two weeks before Israel’s March 17 elections.

Nisman’s ex-wife: Late AMIA prosecutor was murdered


Forensic tests on the body of an Argentine state prosecutor who died days after accusing President Cristina Fernandez of plotting to cover up Iran's alleged role in a 1994 bombing indicate that he was murdered, his ex-wife said on Thursday.

The mysterious circumstances surrounding Alberto Nisman's death in January unleashed a storm of conspiracy theories. His former wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, hired a private team to analyze the autopsy results and run additional tests.

Argentine authorities have not released full results of Nisman's autopsy, more than six weeks after he was found sprawled in a pool of blood in his flat. The few details made public so far have suggested suicide, although the lead investigator into Nisman's death said she could not categorically say if he shot himself in the head or was killed.

“Nisman didn't have an accident. He didn't commit suicide. They murdered him,” Arroyo Salgado told a news conference. Nisman, 52, was the father of their two children.

Earlier on Thursday, Arroyo Salgado, who is a judge, deposited the forensic evidence behind her allegations at the state prosecutors' office in Buenos Aires. She did not give details of the findings to journalists.

Fernandez has branded as “absurd” Nisman's accusation that she sought to whitewash his investigation into the truck-bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center 21 years ago, and has said rogue state spies were behind his death.

Iran has consistently denied it was involved in the bomb attack, which killed 85 people.

A judge last week threw out the accusations against Fernandez. On Wednesday, however, the prosecutor who picked up Nisman's case appealed that ruling, prolonging a scandal that has plunged Fernandez's last year in office into turmoil.

Polls show two in three Argentines believe they will never know the truth about what happened to Nisman, who was found dead the day before he was to appear in Congress to discuss his criminal complaint.

Viviana Fein, the state prosecutor investigating Nisman's death, said she would study the evidence put forward by Arroyo Salgado's team.

“Up until now … there has been nothing which allows me to say categorically whether this was a suicide or homicide. Nothing,” Fein told the state-run National Radio.

Argentine spy at center of Nisman case accused of smuggling


The Argentine spy at the center of a scandal over last month's death of a state prosecutor was accused on Tuesday of importing tonnes of contraband merchandise during his final years as head of the country's counterintelligence office.

Antonio Stiuso was forced out of the SI intelligence service in December, weeks before state prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused President Cristina Fernandez of trying to cover up Iran's alleged involvement in a deadly 1994 bombing.

The government says Nisman, who was found shot dead on Jan. 18, was manipulated by Stiuso into leveling the accusation as a way of smearing Fernandez.

Nisman's mysterious death has brought long-simmering questions about the integrity of the Argentine justice system to a boil, prompting the opposition to take to the streets to demand answers.

In its latest accusation against Stiuso, the government on Tuesday said he secretly imported tonnes of unidentified goods whose destination remains unknown.

“We have concluded that in 2013 and 2014, contraband imports were received totaling 94 tonnes. These goods did not go to the SI, nor did they serve any function of the agency,” national intelligence chief Oscar Parrilli said in a televised address.

“Much of this merchandise entered the country under the name Antonio Stiuso,” he added. Some customs agents have also been implicated in the illegal import operations, he said.

Stiuso left Argentina last week after making a statement to the prosecutor investigating Nisman's death.

Judges have been assigned to look at the evidence against Fernandez and that against Stiuso, to make sure the allegations are not simply a case of smear and counter smear by warring factions in the murky world of Argentine intelligence.

The 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85. The Argentine courts pinned the crime on agents of Iran, which denies any involvement.

Stiuso had long been at odds with Fernandez over her proposal to form a “truth commission” with Tehran aimed at resolving the crime, according to sources who were familiar with the investigation and asked not to be named.

Nisman said Fernandez also took the illegal step of secretly offering immunity to the Iranian suspects in order to put through a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran. The day after he died, Nisman was scheduled to outline his case before Congress.

State prosecutors joined opposition figures and tens of thousands of citizens in a march last week protesting what they describe as government meddling in the courts.

Polls show that Fernandez, her image already dented by an ailing economy, has lost popularity due to the Nisman scandal. She is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in the October election.

Argentine president, others face investigation in Nisman death


Argentine Federal Prosecutor Gerardo Pollitica is requesting permission to investigate President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and others members of the Argentine government in the cover-up of Iran’s involvement in the AMIA bombing.

Pollicita asked Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas on Friday to open an investigation to determine if Fernández de Kirchner ordered the Foreign Ministry to sign a pact with Iran to ignore the Iranian responsibilities in AMIA 1994 attack in exchange for commercial benefits.

Pollicita based the request on the 290-page complaint drafted by AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead on Jan. 16, shortly before he was to present allegations to Congress, Pollitica Rafecas to collect evidence in order to move forward with the probe.

In a related development, Nisman’s ex-wife on Thursday called for an international investigation of his mysterious death.

Sandra Arroyo Salgado, herself a judge, made the plea at a meeting organized by opposition parties in Congress, where she stated that she had asked the Public Defender’s Office to have Nisman’s Jan. 18 death investigated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“The Argentine state acknowledged its responsibility before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for not investigating [its] worst-ever terrorist attack that killed 85 people and now also the prosecutor investigating the case,” she said in a statement that was widely interpreted as implying that Argentine justice authorities have not demonstrated the competence necessary to investigate the death of Nisman. Nisman, who was Jewish, was in 2004 appointed chief prosecutor of the bombing at the AMIA Jewish community center.

Nisman accused President Cristina Fernandez of brokering a secret deal with Iran to help shield Iranian officials charged in the attack. Fernandez has denied that.

Nisman’s ex-wife also complained of leaks in the probe into his death, which is headed by investigator Viviana Fein.

“One does not need to be a lawyer to understand that leaking information of an ongoing criminal investigation can make it collapse,” Arroyo Salgado said.

Fein initially said Nisman’s death was a suicide but later changed that hypothesis, suggesting he was murdered.

Nisman’s death, which shocked many Argentineans, will be commemorated in rallies around the world on Feb. 18 – exactly one month after he died.

In the United States, rallies are scheduled in Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Houston and San Francisco, in addition to rallies planned in Europe, in Berlin, Athens and Paris.

Test: No gunpowder found on Nisman’s hands


A sophisticated test found no gunpowder on the hands of AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose shooting death remains unexplained.

The release of the test results came as dozens of cities in 28 countries confirmed that they will hold rallies on Feb. 18 to mark the passing of one month since Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment.

The microscopic electron scanning test conducted Tuesday in a specialized laboratory in northern Argentina is the second test in search of a trace of gunpowder.

Nisman’s body was found on Jan. 18, hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 dead and hundreds wounded.

Explanations range from suicide to an attempted operation against the government.

The new discovery seems to support the hypothesis that the prosecutor could have been murdered, though some experts explained on Wednesday on Argentine news programs that the .22-caliber Bersa pistol that killed Nisman is a type of gun that sometimes does not leave traces of gunpowder.

In an interview published Tuesday in the Washington Post, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman defended the memorandum of understanding signed by Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the AMIA bombing. Timerman said that his government does not gain anything with Nisman’s death and revealed that the United States did not want to push the AMIA issue in negotiations with Iran.

Timerman told the Post that he asked the Argentine ambassador to Washington to send a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “asking that they include the AMIA case in their negotiations with the Iranians. They told us that it was not possible.”

Meanwhile, AMIA said it will participate in the Feb. 18 rally for justice organized by the judicial employees union and prosecutors in memory of Nisman.

In the United States, cities that will hold rallies include Miami Beach, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Houston and San Francisco.

Worldwide, cities holding rallies include Paris, Athens, Toronto, Montreal, Sydney, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Santiago, Bogota, Rome, Milan, Tokyo, Oslo, Lima, Caracas and Bern.

Dead prosecutor was a ‘soldier’ of ex-Argentine spy boss


The Argentine prosecutor found dead last month was the unwitting “soldier” of former counterintelligence chief Antonio Stiusso, who was seeking revenge for his firing, President Cristina Fernandez's chief of staff said.

Anibal Fernandez, who is not related to the president, told Reuters late on Thursday that it was clear years ago that Stiusso called the shots in his relationship with prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had been investigating the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

Nisman was found slumped in a pool of blood, a single bullet to the head, on Jan. 18, days after filing a 300-page document accusing the president of plotting to whitewash his findings that Iran had backed the attack.

But the president's chief of staff said it was clear the document had not been written by a legal expert.

“I am convinced Nisman did not write the charges,” Fernandez said in an interview in his wood-paneled office inside the Casa Rosada, the seat of government, late on Thursday. “In his role as a soldier in Stiusso's army, he ended up signing them.”

Fernandez recalled a 2006 meeting with Nisman over the prosecutor's reluctance to travel to a meeting with Interpol. Stiusso was also present.

“You realized who was the commander and who was the commanded,” Fernandez said.

Stiusso was one of the Intelligence Secretariat's most powerful yet enigmatic operatives. Although his career spanned 42 years, only one photograph of the divorced father-of-two is publicly known.

In December, he was fired. Sources close to the agency and the government say President Fernandez has been in open conflict with factions of her own spy agency for two years after a shift in relations with Iran that followed a deal in which she enlisted that country's help to investigate the 1994 attack.

REVENGE

Iran has vigorously denied involvement in the bombing, and President Fernandez has dismissed Nisman's findings as absurd. She said Nisman was duped by rogue agents and killed when he was no longer of value to them.

Sitting in front of a bank of eight television screens, Chief of Staff Fernandez said: “I have no doubt this is part of Stiusso's revenge for having been removed from the intelligence agency … an organization he thought belonged to him.”

Investigators confirmed this week they found a draft request for the arrest of the president written by Nisman months ago, suggesting he had been convinced she had plotted to thwart his investigations long before Stiusso's firing.

Prosecutors failed on Thursday to track Stiusso down for questioning. Senior officials acknowledge they have no idea if he is in the country.

The Argentine government has taken the unusual step of lifting secrecy laws to allow investigators to question Stiusso fully.

“He should talk and tell everything he wants to,” Fernandez said. “If it damages someone, so be it.”

A staunch defender of the president during one of her worst political crises, the chief of staff has a collection of framed photographs of Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, behind his desk.

Conspiracy theories over the prosecutor's death abound, some pointing directly at the president. Polls show the government's credibility has been dented.

Even so, Fernandez said the president was unconcerned.

“Nisman's accusation hasn't given her a moment's worry.”

Judges decline to take on charges against Argentina’s president


Two judges on Monday declined to handle the allegations brought by late prosecutor Alberto Nisman against Argentina's president, charging her with seeking to derail his investigation of the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

Just days after Nisman brought the charges against President Cristina Fernandez and members of her government, he was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head.

It is unclear whether Nisman committed suicide or was murdered. The mysterious circumstances of his death have rocked Argentina, sparking a blizzard of conspiracy theories.

The prosecutor accused Fernandez of seeking to absolve Iran's involvement in the attack in order to normalize relations with Tehran and get access to Iranian oil. Banned from global credit markets since its record 2002 default, Argentina is struggling to finance its energy deficit.

Iran has always denied any involvement in the attack.

Nisman had brought his case before Judge Ariel Lijo as he was already investigating charges of attempts to derail the prosecutor's investigation of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center that killed 85.

The other cover-up charges involve ex-President Carlos Menem, who ruled the South American country from 1989 to 1999.

Lijo said in a statement on Monday that there were insufficient grounds to link the two charges given the alleged crimes took place during different time periods and by different people.

“There mere fact it has some kind of link indirect or direct with the attack on the AMIA, as in the present case,” is not sufficient to tack Nisman's charges onto the others, Lijo said.

The second judge called upon to take up Nisman's charges, Daniel Rafecas, also declined to do so, according to private and state-run Argentine media. His office did not return calls seeking comment.

It is now up to a federal chamber once more to determine who should take up the case that some observers have described as a “hot judicial potato”.

Fernandez has called the prosecutor's accusations absurd. Her government says his allegations and his death were linked to a power struggle at Argentina's intelligence agency and agents who had recently been fired.

The government says they deliberately misled Nisman and may have had a hand in writing parts of his 350-page complaint.

Anti-Semitic posters referencing Nisman appear in Buenos Aires


Posters appeared in a Jewish neighborhood of Buenos Aires reading “A good Jew is a dead Jew. The good Jew is Nisman.”

The posters in Villa Crespo refer to Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor heading the probe into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center who was found shot dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 18. His death remains unexplained.

No group or individual has taken credit for the unsigned posters. The motto is similar to the phrase “The only good Jew is a dead Jew” used by nationalistic and anti-Semitic groups during the 1960s and ’70s.

DAIA, The Argentine Jewish political umbrella, expressed “concern” about the posters. DAIA President Julio Schlosser told the Argentine media that he will discuss the issue with national authorities.

“We condemn the clear anti-Semitic content of the posters, as well as the incitement to violence, and urge the relevant authorities to investigate the case and to identify the perpetrators and masterminds,” DAIA said in a statement issued Monday. “Also, we call on different sectors of our society to condemn this crime that threatens democracy and peaceful coexistence.”

Nisman, 51, was found hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other government officials covered up Iran’s role in the AMIA attack.

Argentina says dead prosecutor tricked into accusing Fernandez


A prosecutor who accused Argentina's president of trying to derail the investigation into a 1994 bombing, and who died in mysterious circumstances on Sunday, was misled to believe there was a conspiracy to whitewash the crime, the government said on Wednesday.

State prosecutor Alberto Nisman, the lead investigator into the 1994 car bomb attack that killed 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment late on Sunday, hours before he was scheduled to present his case to Congress.

A 22-caliber pistol was found at his side and Nisman appears to have committed suicide, but many of the details of the case are unclear and allegations of foul play have surged. He died just a few days after accusing President Cristina Fernandez of trying to hamper his probe.

A top government official said on Wednesday that Nisman was tricked into believing that two men who formed the backbone of his case against President Cristina Fernandez were government spies.

“They sold him on a connection that did not exist,” said Anibal Fernandez, the president's chief of staff.

Asked by a reporter if Nisman had been “totally naive”, Fernandez replied: “You said it better than me.”

Antonio Stiusso, a senior Argentine spy, was fired in a December shake-up of the intelligence service, where one of his duties had been to help Nisman with the investigation into the 1994 bombing.

Chief of Staff Fernandez said it was Stiusso who falsely told Nisman that the two men who helped him build a case against the president were state intelligence agents.

The government has suggested Nisman's death may have been linked to a struggle within the state intelligence services but it has not provided details and no one has yet been detained.

Argentine courts accuse Iran of sponsoring the 1994 bombing and secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians. Iran's government has denied any involvement.

Nisman said last week that Fernandez wanted to whitewash the bombing and normalize relations with Iran in order to trade Argentine grains for Iranian oil. Argentina has a $7 billion annual energy gap, complicating the government's efforts to jumpstart a faltering economy.

“Fernandez was determined to use intelligence personnel to carry out the conspiracy,” Nisman said in his complaint.

Fernandez and her ministers dismissed Nisman's charges as ridiculous.

A source who worked for years on the investigation with Nisman told Reuters that the lead prosecutor was sure of himself last week as he prepared to take his case of Congress.

“He was very determined … No one (on the investigative team) believes he committed suicide,” the source said, echoing the opinion of Nisman's ex wife and others who knew him.

Investigators have said Nisman was alone when he died, and that the two doors to the apartment were locked from the inside but local media reported on Wednesday that an air conditioning duct leading to the apartment was being looked at as a third possible way into Nisman's home.

Argentine prosecutor who accused Fernandez of Iran plot found dead


A prosecutor who accused Argentina's president of orchestrating a cover-up in the investigation of Iran over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head, the government said on Monday.

The body of Alberto Nisman, who for a decade investigated the blast at the Buenos Aires AMIA Jewish community center that killed 85 people, was discovered on Sunday night.

He had been due to testify on Monday at a congressional inquiry into his allegations.

Preliminary autopsy results suggested “there was no third-person intervention in Nisman's death,” the office of state prosecutor Viviana Fein said in a statement. But she also said she “could not rule out a provoked suicide” whereby someone forced or blackmailed Nisman to kill himself.

A 22-calibre handgun and a single bullet casing were found next to his body, the security ministry said.

Senior politicians said they suspected more than a straightforward suicide.

“We want to know which mafiosi sector pushed the prosecutor to take this decision,” said Julian Dominguez, who leads the ruling coalition in the lower house of Congress.

Nisman had a large security detail due to threats but seemed combative rather than frightened in recent interviews.

He alleged last week that President Cristina Fernandez opened secretive discussions with Iran and at least one of the men suspected in the bombing and that the scheme aimed to clear the suspects so Argentina could swap grains for much-needed oil from Iran, which denies any connection with the attack.

Tens of thousands of Argentines took the streets on Monday evening to protest Nisman's death and call for justice.

At least 2,000 demonstrated outside the presidential residence in Buenos Aires, chanting “murderer” and hitting their umbrellas against police barricades.

Fernandez published a long, rambling note on Facebook late on Monday, exhorting Argentines to consider the full complexity of the case and not believe the “lies”.

“There is not just astonishment and question marks, but also a history that is too long, too heavy, too difficult, and above all, very sordid,” she said.

In an apparent move to show she had nothing to hide, Fernandez asked for intelligence information that had been requested by Nisman to be declassified.

The case could become a major issue ahead of October's presidential election. Opposition politicians such as frontrunner Sergio Massa quickly called for a transparent inquiry into Nisman's death and the AMIA bombing.

“This death, which is an inflection point in the history of Argentina's democracy, should serve Argentine society in finding the path of truth regarding the 1994 AMIA bombing,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

'ALONE'

Nisman's security guards alerted his mother on Sunday afternoon that he was not answering his phone or the front door of his apartment in a high-rise block in the luxurious Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires.

She found the door to his apartment locked from the inside and got a locksmith to open it. She found her son's body on the floor of the bathroom.

“He was alone in the apartment, there are no witnesses,” prosecutor Fein said.

The Clarin daily newspaper reported that Nisman said in an interview just a few days earlier that “I could end up dead because of this.” Israel issued a statement mourning Nisman's death and urging Argentine authorities to carry on his work. Argentina's main Jewish organizations, AMIA and DAIA, praised his “inalterable impulse to get to the truth.”

But the judge handling the case of the 1994 bombing criticized Nisman late last week for taking it upon himself to “initiate an investigation without judicial control” and said the evidence he put forth was flawed.

Argentine courts have accused Iran of sponsoring the 1994 bombing, a charge Tehran denies. In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese over the bombing.

In 2013, Fernandez tried to form a “truth commission” with Iran to investigate jointly. She said it would reactivate the inquiry but Israel and Jewish groups said the move threatened to derail criminal prosecution of the case.

The truth commission pact was struck down by an Argentine court and never ratified by Iran.

Nisman had said the commission was intended to help get the arrest warrants dropped as a step toward normalizing bilateral relations and opening the door to obtaining Iranian oil needed to help close Argentina's $7 billion per year energy deficit.

Argentine prosecutor says Fernandez tried to whitewash 1994 bombing


An Argentine prosecutor accused President Cristina Fernandez on Wednesday of trying to orchestrate a cover up in the investigation of Iran over the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

State prosecutor Alberto Nisman, investigating the blast that killed 85 people, said Fernandez has pushed to drop the criminal investigation and normalize relations as a way of tapping Iranian oil needed to narrow Argentina's $7 billion per year energy gap.

Oil would be exchanged for Argentine grains under the government's plan, Nisman said.

Nisman said he issued a request that a judge interrogate Fernandez and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman “for being authors and accomplices of an aggravated cover-up and obstruction of justice regarding the Iranians accused of the AMIA terrorist attack.”

Argentine courts accuse Iran of sponsoring the bombing. Iran, in preparatory talks with the United States to end its standoff with world powers over its nuclear program, denies links to the attack.

In 2013 Fernandez signed a “truth commission” deal with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing.

Nisman said Fernandez opened a back channel to the Iranian government aimed at getting the charges thrown out. The idea, Nisman said, was to sign the truth commission pact as a step toward deactivating the arrest warrants.

Fernandez said at the time that the pact would reactivate the probe, but the move was denounced by Israel and Jewish groups that said it threatened to derail proper criminal prosecution of the case. The truth commission pact was later struck down by an Argentine court.

Fernandez's Chief of Staff Anibal Fernandez dismissed Nisman's charge as “ridiculous”. But the allegations may cause problems for the president as she tucks into her last months in office. Argentina has a presidential election in October and Fernandez is barred from running for a third consecutive term.

“This is a very serious accusation, probably the most serious levied against Cristina Fernandez during her administration,” said Ignacio Labaqui, who analyses Argentina for emerging markets consultancy Medley Global Advisors.

“The prosecutor is accusing her of being responsible for a maneuver to cover up the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history,” he added.

In 2007, Argentina secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians suspected of being behind the 1994 blast, which came two years after a group linked to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29.

Memorials mark 20-year anniversary of Buenos Aires Jewish center bombing


Thousands gathered outside the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building, the institutional headquarters of the Jewish community of Argentina, in Buenos Aires on July 18, marking 20 years since the bombing of the AMIA that left 85 dead and more than 300 injured.

A siren sounded at precisely 9:53 a.m. — the time of the attack — and as the name of each victim was read the audience responded “Presente” (present), holding up photos of the victims and signs that read “Justicia.” Many students from Jewish day schools attended, as did some from Catholic schools, and the ceremony included a video-transmitted message from Buenos Aires native Pope Francis.

“It’s been 20 years — I had friends, relatives, everyone [at the AMIA],” said Mauricio Bal, 70, who had rushed to the building immediately after the attack.

“The least I can do is come every year — I need to renew my memories. For me, it helps.”

After two decades, no one has been convicted for the AMIA bombing, which occurred two years after the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people, and that also remains unsolved. The AMIA investigation has gone through many stages, including a multilevel Argentine government cover-up that allegedly included Rubén Beraja, the then-president of the DAIA, Argentina’s umbrella Jewish organization, who is currently standing trial for his role in the cover-up. The AMIA maintains that Beraja is falsely accused of participating in the government cover-up, while other groups formed by families and friends of the victims, like Memoria Activa (Active Memory), hold that by defending Beraja, AMIA is obstructing the investigation.

Four separate memorial ceremonies by AMIA/DAIA and groups formed by family members and friends of victims took place on July 18, plus an event at the Colón Theater in Buenos Aires the night before. For the first time, Memoria Activa held its ceremony at the same time as that of the AMIA. In a flier made public before the anniversary, Memoria Activa explained its decision, saying that “the leadership of AMIA-DAIA has not accompanied us, protected us, or shared our pain or our push for justice” and that “to protect Beraja, they [AMIA-DAIA] have dedicated themselves to obstruct and delay the case.”

“I consider Memoria Activa’s position with respect to the investigation correct, but [in previous years] I went to AMIA’s memorial to show the world that the gathering of people at the AMIA was massive,” said Sofia Tarlovsky, 82, who attended Memoria Activa’s memorial instead this year. “It is difficult to recognize that things aren’t done perfectly by the central institution.”

Nevertheless, many still attended AMIA’s memorial, which is nationally televised each year.

“I’m here so there will be more people, so there will be more presence,” said Mailen Knoblovits, a 24-year-old student. “I don’t identify politically with either group.”

Ralph Thomas Saieg, AMIA’s current vice president, spoke at AMIA’s ceremony condemning a memorandum of understanding signed in 2013 by the Argentine government with Iran to form a joint commission to investigate the bombing. An international investigation of the bombing has focused on Iran, and in 2006 Argentine prosecutors in charge of the investigation accused the Iranian government and Hezbollah of organizing and carrying out the bombing. At the ceremony, Saieg called for Argentina to renew its Interpol “red notices” for its Iranian suspects, which included several government officials and former Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi. Continuing in the same vein, Alfredo Leuco, an Argentine journalist who also spoke, said that Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s foreign minister and a Jew, who negotiated the agreement with Iran, had “betrayed the Jewish people and the Argentine people.”

“A non-Jewish foreign minister would never have dared to do so much,” he said, receiving cheers from an otherwise silent crowd.

At Memoria Activa’s memorial rally in front of the Argentine Supreme Court about 20 blocks away, Diana Malamud, a leader of the organization whose husband, Andrés Gustavo Malamud, died in the bombing, blamed the AMIA leadership for obstructing the advancement of the case. Describing the investigation as a hoax, Malamud called for the removal of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation.

“It’s a shame that 20 years later we have so many divisions,” said Sofia Guterman at AMIA’s ceremony, whose daughter, Andrea, died in the bombing. “All the family members want justice. But [the divisions] are respectable. Every group fights for justice in their own way.”

Hold Iran accountable for AMIA bombing


On July 18, 1994, a hellish scene unfolded in Buenos Aires as a car bomb set by Iranian agents destroyed the AMIA/DAIA Jewish center, killing 85 people and wounding hundreds.

Twenty years later, there is still no justice in the case — and a decision taken by the Argentine government is part of the problem.

Last year, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iranian government that was supposed to establish a so-called truth commission to bring resolution to the case.

In April, the World Jewish Congress, supporting the Argentine Jewish community, called on the Argentine government to rescind the memorandum. As Jewish communities around the world mark the anniversary with vigils, we urge the U.S. government to bring pressure to bear to see that this happens, and to again push the Iranians to surrender the AMIA suspects.

Nothing has changed in Iran’s behavior in the 20 years since the AMIA atrocity. Iran’s terror forces continue to wreak havoc everywhere in the Middle East. Iranian-designed rockets have been raining on Israel. Iranian-funded and -armed Hezbollah has assassinated its way into a leading role in the Lebanese government, and now assists Syrian President Bashar Assad in slaughtering his own people. Not to mention that Iranian agents supplied the roadside bombs that not so long ago killed so many American service personnel during the Iraq war.

Iran’s terror team revels in its accomplishments. Two years ago, on the anniversary of the AMIA bombing on July 18, Hezbollah blew up a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, killing six.

The AMIA bombing itself was the culmination of more than a decade of Iranian-sponsored terrorist atrocities that killed many Westerners. In 1983, Iranian-backed terrorists sent truck bombs into the barracks of American and French peacekeepers in Beirut, killing 299. In 1992, Iranian agents blew up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and wounding hundreds. (No one has been brought to trial in that case, either.)

The Argentine memorandum is a despicable document. Argentina’s judiciary long ago presented clear evidence that the terrorist attack was ordered and masterminded by senior officials in the Iranian government and by Hezbollah. It even presented Interpol with the names of the alleged perpetrators, which in turn issued a red alert.

Iran, however, refused for many years to render the suspects, so Argentina decided to try a conciliatory approach by signing the joint memorandum — notwithstanding the vociferous protests of the Argentine Jewish community, which decried it as an affront to the victims of the attack. The community also warned that as a practical matter, the gambit was doomed to fail. It has. A year later, the Argentine government has nothing to show for it — not surprisingly, since the Iranian regime has foiled the “truth commission” at every turn.

We at the World Jewish Congress approach the AMIA anniversary, as we do each year, with a heavy heart. We grieve for our many friends lost and live with the aftermath of the atrocity.

What have we learned since the AMIA bombing?

We’ve learned that the world loves to forget. But as Jews, we must heed the commandment of “zachor” – to remember. To paraphrase Genesis, the voice of our brothers’ blood is crying out to us from the ground. Some people say that “justice delayed is justice denied,” but we will keep insisting until justice is done.

The way forward on this case is the same as it always was: America, Argentina and the West must insist that the Iranian regime stop putting up roadblocks and dust and hand over the suspects. If Iran does not do so, it can never be accepted back into the family of nations no matter how many nuclear bombs it promises to forgo.

(Robert Singer is CEO of the World Jewish Congress.)

 

Twenty years since the AMIA bombing in Argentina


In a plaza across the street from the Argentine Supreme Court here in Buenos Aires, Sofía Tarlovsky points to two names inscribed on a sundial-shaped memorial, both of them her former kindergarten students. Instead of minute marks, the clock marks time with wooden sticks carved with names and ages that jut out vertically from the circular marble base, which bears the quote in Spanish and Hebrew:  “Justicia Justicia Perseguirás,” “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” (justice, justice, you will seek). A blank space at the 9:53 spot marks the time on the morning of July 18, 1994, that a van carrying explosives rammed into the institutional headquarters of the Jewish community of Argentina — the AMIA building — killing 85 people and injuring more than 300.

Every Monday since the attack, now exactly 20 years ago, Tarlovsky, 82, and others from an elderly group observe a minute of silence in the plaza, then shout “Justicia!” at the courthouse, repeating the word three times before a man blows a shofar.

Despite the two decades that have passed, no one has been convicted for the AMIA bombing, which occurred two years after another unsolved bombing of the Israeli Embassy 20 blocks away. That one killed 29 people. But the memory of those two horrific incidents is still very much alive. As a result, almost all Jewish institutions in Argentina, home to some 240,000 Jews, have cement barriers at their entrances, and every July 18 thousands attend a nationally televised memorial in front of the now re-built AMIA (Argentine-Israelite Mutual Aid Association).

The AMIA investigation has seen many phases, including a confirmed government cover-up that allegedly involved Rubén Beraja, the then-president of the DAIA, Argentina’s umbrella Jewish organization. Today, families of victims are both divided among themselves and at odds with the Jewish community’s leadership.

Asked about the current progress of the investigation, Tarlovsky shook her head and replied “nada” — nothing.

“I am convinced that this bombing happened because the bombing on the Israeli embassy wasn’t investigated, so the terrorists saw that it would be easy,” Tarlovsky said. “I don’t think there will be justice, especially after 20 years. It’s very difficult. It implicates too many people in power.

“There’s a lot of ugliness here,” she said of the case. “It’s very sad, very painful.”

Jorge Beremblum, 74, was working in the treasurer’s office on AMIA’s third floor the morning of the attack; at first he thought the explosion came from a gas leak.

“But it was a momentary feeling, because when we opened our eyes and saw the enormous amount of dust, we realized that it was something else,” Beremblum said recently, explaining that the people in the office immediately recalled the attack on the Israeli embassy. “After the first few seconds, from the way the place looked, we realized that it was a bomb.”

Beremblum was not in the front part of the building, which collapsed completely. The attack’s victims were both Jews and non-Jews, among them a 5-year-old boy walking on the street with his mother, three cousins who had come to the AMIA to arrange for a relative’s funeral and people in the building next door. In a frantic effort to dig through the ruins for survivors, volunteers, along with firemen and policemen, struggled to clear away the debris. In the frenzy, some key pieces of evidence were tossed into garbage bins, and pieces of the exploded van were lost.

“It was a complete chaos,” said Sergio Widder, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Latin American office. “There were corridors made by lines of people to make a path for the nurses and stretchers. There was a multitude of people standing on the debris, and no one knew how many people were alive under there in conditions to be rescued. We don’t know, and we’ll never know.”

In his oval-shaped office in the Buenos Aires City Legislature, Jorge Taiana, foreign minister of Argentina from 2005 to 2010, explained why the bombing may have occurred. 

“There were important failures in security that allowed for the biggest attack against the Jewish community since World War II,” he said, adding that Argentina is a “relatively important” country with a very significant Jewish community.

He believes help from a foreign country would have been necessary for the attack.

“Apart from [the bombing] being easy to do, and that it was an important Jewish community and that this would have an impact, we still have the question of whether whoever did it had a direct or indirect connection with a country,” he said. “These things are hard to do from so far away without the direct or indirect support from someone in a state structure.”

The official investigation has focused on an “international connection” and a “local connection,” two leads that were interrupted by allegations of a government-sponsored cover-up in the 1990s, organized by the executive and judicial officials, allegedly implicating the president, Carlos Menem, members of the national intelligence agency (SIDE), the judge in charge of the case and the president of the DAIA.

From the beginning, some groups, like Memoria Activa (Active Memory), an organization formed by victims’ family members, focused on a local connection. According to Luciano Hazan, a former lawyer for Memoria Activa, federal police officers who were supposed to be guarding the AMIA at the time were not present during the bombing. Evidence also suggests that the national intelligence agency (SIDE) may have been tipped off about the attack beforehand.

The investigating federal judge, Juan José Galeano, issued an arrest warrant in 2002 for 12 Iranian citizens, which Interpol suspended in 2004 because of weak evidence. The so-called “local connection” resulted in various arrests, including that of Carlos Telleldín, a mechanic accused of having sold and put together the van used in the bombing, and four members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police Force. However, in 2004 all suspects in the local connection were found not guilty and acquitted, and a new investigation began. In 2005, Galeano was impeached as a result of a video that showed the judge offering Telleldín a bribe of $400,000 in exchange for “evidence” incriminating the four policemen.

“They built an entire false investigation with the idea of having a group of people to condemn to avoid a real investigation — a maneuver carried out by the executive branch by way of the federal police, the head of the SIDE, the judicial branch, public ministers, secretaries and leaders of the Jewish community,” Hazan said.

Beraja, the president of the DAIA and of the Latin American Jewish Congress at the time of the bombing and who was expected to pressure the government to investigate the bombing, is currently standing trial for knowing about the payment to Telleldín. He was also the president of Banco de Mayo, the Jewish community´s bank, which went bankrupt in 1998 and which led to Beraja’s prosecution for bank fraud. According to Argentine journalist Raul Kollman, Banco de Mayo made large contributions to Jewish institutions and received financial support from Argentine Central Bank, and Beraja’s two positions created a conflict of interest.

“From the standpoint of being the president of the bank, he needed a good relationship with the government, and in terms of responding to the bombing, it was the opposite,” Kollman said. “Without a doubt, this affected the investigation.” 

Along with Memoria Activa, American Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York was one of the first to denounce Menem, then-president of Argentina, and Beraja of participating in a cover-up. Weiss flew to Argentina immediately after the bombing with letters from New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani calling for a prompt investigation. He met privately with Menem and became convinced that the president was covering up details uncovered in the investigation.

“I just looked at him and said, ‘Why Argentina a second time?’ ” Weiss recalled.

Weiss and several Argentine Jewish community leaders then attended a full cabinet meeting, where, Weiss said, Menem “was trying to convince us they did everything they could to catch the bombers of the embassy,” but Weiss said he noticed Menem nodding off during the meeting and not speaking.

When Menem came to New York two months later to receive an award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation for his work on the investigation, Weiss and a colleague were arrested for demonstrating at the ceremony.

“My God, they were giving him an award,” Weiss remembered thinking. “The who’s- who of the Jewish community was there, honoring this man.”

Weiss returned to Argentina a year later and publicly accused Menem of a cover-up, resulting in Galeano immediately subpoenaing him. Instead of complying, Weiss took a
2 1/2-hour boat trip from Uruguay to Argentina to prove how the borders of Argentina easily could be breached.

“I just remember when the ship returned, not only did I not go through customs, I just jumped off the side of the boat onto the street,” he said. “No one checked my cameras for bombs.”

Although an investigation of the cover-up led by prosecutor Alberto Nisman began in 2000 and has produced indictments, the oral trial of the defendants, which includes Galeano, Beraja and the former chief of SIDE, has not begun. The investigation of the local connection restarted under Nisman in 2004, but it also still has not gone to trial.

“The judiciary clearly doesn’t want it to happen,” Hazan said. “It’s a trial where the magnifying glass will not only be on the AMIA and its cover-up but also on the federal judicial system of Argentina. It’ll show how the federal judicial system has been working for various years — it’s a justice system that’s not transparent, [it’s] corrupt.”

Hazan noted that, unlike the recent trials of Argentina’s military junta leaders, which occurred about 30 years after the dictatorship, the trials for the cover-up “affect powers that are still there.”

“It’s an embarrassment, because we have judges for a reason,” Hazan said. “They have to be impartial, independent, without caring what they’ll be told in the hallway for condemning Galeano or his secretaries or a policeman that someone worked with and was friends with.”

In 2005, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner recognized the cover-up and the government’s responsibility for the failure of the AMIA investigation, but the families of the victims remain frustrated.

“One of his promises was to intensify the investigation, to search for the international and local culprits and the chain of the cover-up, to improve border security and provide compensation for the family members,” said Laura Ginsberg, whose husband died in the bombing. “None of that happened.”

An international investigation of the bombing has focused on Iran. In 2005, the Argentine prosecutors again accused the Iranian government and Hezbollah of carrying out the bombing and called for the arrest of then-Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials. This time, Interpol upheld the prosecutors’ request for the arrest warrants, but Iran has refused to extradite.

In January 2013, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner announced that Argentina had signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Iran to establish a “truth commission” to investigate the bombing, which would allow Iran to review Argentina’s investigation. But that memorandum, which remains unratified by Iran, was declared unconstitutional by an Argentine court of appeals in May 2014 as interfering with the judiciary, a decision that has since been appealed to the Supreme Court. 

In a recent interview, an official from the Foreign Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, took issue with the appellate court decision, saying that the memorandum only gives the prosecutor and the judge the option to interview the accused in Tehran.

“They say that you shouldn’t negotiate with the Iranians, but we say that if we want a declaration from Iranians [suspects] who live in Iran and we want to negotiate with the Iranian government, then we have to go to Iran,” the official told the Journal.

Andrés Cisneros, the deputy foreign minister during Menem’s presidency, said political will in the investigation remains weak, and he compared the memo with Iran to “asking Dr. Jekyll to find Mr. Hyde,” as the scientist and the monster were the same person.

But when asked about other options, he said, “We don’t have alternatives.” 

“Argentina doesn’t have the capacity to investigate the Middle East,” he said. “The countries that can apply pressure don’t have the motivation to help Argentina. Argentina has isolated itself, and that has produced weakness.”

Both Cisneros and Taiana held that Iran never offered to help with the investigation.

“Today, there’s a political decision from the Iranian government to protect Iranian citizens that it considers victims of a political persecution and that sees Argentina as simply an arm of the United States and Israel,” Taiana said.

Tension also exists within the Jewish community, between the establishment and the groups formed by family members.

According to Adriana Reisfeld, the president of Memoria Activa, the group in the beginning had a “relationship of respect with AMIA and trusted that the leadership accompanied and didn’t betray us.” But now, she says, Memoria Activa is AMIA/DAIA’s “worst obstacle” with respect to the case.

“If we didn’t exist, the investigation would already be closed,” Reisfeld said, explaining that in 2003, during the oral trial falsely accusing the Buenos Aires policemen, AMIA/DAIA accused the policemen while Memoria Activa didn’t. “We have had private talks with the leaders of AMIA and DAIA and they all tell us, ‘We don’t want to have anything else to do with the AMIA case; we want it to be over.’ ”

Ginsberg, who heads APEMIA — a group of families and friends of victims that split off from Memoria Activa in 2002 — agrees that the AMIA and DAIA are holding back the investigation by focusing responsibility on Iran. 

“Of course the cover-up continues, because their objective is to accuse anyone except Argentina,” she said.

Unlike Memoria Activa, the AMIA/DAIA is not a criminal complainant in the cover-up trial involving former DAIA president Beraja.

“The accusation against Beraja is false, unfounded, and serves to transform a victim, like the president of the DAIA, into a victimizer,” explained Mario Sobol, AMIA’s secretary general.

Sobol also responded to the accusations by APEMIA and Memoria Activa that AMIA does not care about the investigation.

“It is their point of view,” he said. “It [the investigation] is our No. 1 priority.” He would not comment on the cause for the accusations, saying he does not want to speak badly about other people.

Weiss offered a wider perspective on the divisions.

“It’s tough to be critical,” he said. “They were inevitable divisions. When you’re on the inside, you are weighted down by bureaucracy, and when you’re on the outside, you’re not burdened by any of that.”

Although united by their dislike of the Jewish leadership, tensions also exist between Memoria Activa and APEMIA, one being the memorandum with Iran, which APEMIA was against but which Memoria Activa supported.

“For us, the memo signifies the deepening of the cover-up and not reaching the truth,” said Ginsberg, who believes there is not enough evidence to substantiate the connection to Iran. “Memoria Activa doesn’t think that the truth can be reached; that’s the big difference. We are convinced the truth can be known.”

Reisfeld said that Memoria Activa supported the memorandum because it “thought the memo would lead to something,” but she added that “it’s the only means that has been found until now.

“All the presidents of the United States live negotiating,” she said, raising her voice. “Go to Israel and talk to Shimon Peres or [Benjamin] Netanyahu and ask how it’s possible that [Gilad] Shalit was freed.

“Israel is against our victory, because Israel is against the memo, but it negotiates permanently. And we can’t negotiate to know the truth? It looks like Israel and the United States don’t want to know the truth. The only ones who want to know are the families,” Reisfeld said.

Through all the politics lies the pain of the victims’ families.

“We’re family members — we’re not the police or investigators,” said Reisfeld, 58, whose sister, who worked in social services for the elderly at the AMIA, was killed in the bombing. “We have already lost the most important thing, so I don’t care now about losing time. It’s too bad my mother died and she wanted to see justice. I hope the same doesn’t happen to me.”

“There are few family members left, and the ones that are here are divided,” said Sofía Guterman, whose only child, Andrea, died in the bombing. She was 27.

Andrea was a kindergarten teacher, engaged to be married that year, and had gone to the AMIA for the first time to use its employment services. She was nervous about going alone, and Guterman had called Andrea’s apartment that morning to tell her she would accompany her to the AMIA a different day, but Andrea had already left. She was found on the seventh day, having died instantly when a pillar fell on her.

“It was the end for us because our future was with her; it depended on her,” Guterman said.

In the investigation’s early years, Guterman spoke publicly in support of the arrest of the four policemen, which turned out to be part of the cover-up. Then she began getting calls in the middle of the night.

“They breathed heavily, put on the funeral march,” she said. “Once they put on the voice of a girl crying, screaming for her mother. I almost fainted.”

Guterman, who is in her 70s, has written five books on her daughter, and gives talks at Jewish and non-Jewish schools about the bombing.

“There are still lies and we can’t accomplish anything,” she said. “Not a trial for the cover-up nor convictions of those responsible [for the bombing]. If it’s really Iran, we can’t wait for them to extradite because they won’t. Twenty years is a very big number, and we’re like we were the first day. Without justice.”

Israeli ex-envoy to Argentina: We killed most AMIA bombers


Israel has killed most of the people responsible for the 1994 bombing at a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, a former Israeli ambassador to Argentina said.

“The vast majority of the guilty parties are in another world, and this is something we did,” Yitzhak Aviran said in an interview published Thursday by the Jewish News Agency, or AJN, a Spanish-language service. He did not specify their identities or how they were killed.

Eighty-five people died in the suicide bombing at the multistory Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina building, and hundreds more were wounded.

Aviran, who served as ambassador until 2000, arrived in Buenos Aires in 1993, the year before the attack and a year after a car bomb in front of the Israeli embassy in the city killed 29 people and wounded 200 others.

In the interview, Aviran criticized the Argentinean government’s decision last year to jointly investigate the bombing together with the Iranian government. Israeli, American and some Argentinean intelligence officials believe Iran’s leadership was complicit in planning the attacks.

“We still need an answer [from the Argentine government] on what happened,” he said. “We know who the perpetrators of the embassy bombing were, and they did it a second time.”

Judge asked to invalidate Iran-Argentine probe of 1994 bombing


An Argentine prosecutor has asked a judge to declare as unconstitutional an agreement between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the deadly 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that local courts blamed on Tehran.

Alberto Nisman, who oversaw an investigation of the AMIA center explosion that killed 85 people, presented the appeal to a federal judge on Wednesday, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Israel and world Jewish groups denounced the agreement under which Argentina and Iran formed a “truth commission” in January, saying it was a diplomatic win for Tehran, while offering no benefit to Argentina.

The agreement outlines plans for five Argentine officials who are not residents of Argentina or Iran to interview suspects in Iran. Nisman's appeal said the probe could result in sanctions for Argentina from international human rights bodies.

The commission violates rights protected by Argentina's constitution including judicial independence, the guarantee of due process, the right to effective judicial protection and the right to justice for victims, his motion said.

The bombing came two years after a group linked to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in the Argentine capital, which killed 29. Tehran has denied links to either attack.

In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

Led by the United States, the West has imposed sanctions on Iran – including targeting its key oil revenues – to force it into a diplomatic solution over its nuclear program, which Western nations believe is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez is allied with left-leaning leaders who have been on good terms with Tehran, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Reporting by Guido Nejamkis; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Paul Simao

Remembering AMIA at Maccabiah


American, Canadian, Australian, Russian and British athletes started filling out of a Jerusalem hotel lobby last Thursday to buses that would transport them to the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games.

They paid little mind to the semicircle of older people forming around a table. A man lit two memorial candles and uttered a few words in Spanish. Within five minutes, the short ceremony had concluded.

Those in the semicircle — Argentine tennis players in the master’s division — were commemorating the anniversary of the July 18, 1993, terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires of the AMIA Jewish community center. The attack killed 85 people and destroyed the building. Israel has long fingered Iran as directing the attack.

Similar commemorations Thursday were held nearly everywhere Argentina’s Maccabiah athletes went. The AMIA victims were remembered during the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony, along with the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.

The ceremonies were “not only a remembrance,” but also “a [call] for justice,” said Elena Belinky, deputy assistant to the Argentinian delegation head. They acquired greater meaning, she said, because of the Argentina-Iran agreement in January to form a panel to investigate the bombing.

“We find this a ridiculous thing,” Belinky said, “to make an agreement with the aggressor, since [the Iranians] were responsible for the attack.”

Two AMIA bombing suspects running for Iranian president


Two suspects in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires are candidates in Iran’s presidential election.

Mohsen Rezai and Ali Akbar Velayati, who are believed to have planned the 1994 attack, were among the eight candidates approved Tuesday for the June 14 election by Iran’s Guardian Council to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian constitution bars Ahmadinejad from seeking re-election.

Rezai is under an international arrest warrant, or red notice, from the Interpol international police agency.

Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, which killed 85 and injured 300, and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out. No arrests have been made in the case.

Six Iranians have been on Interpol ’s most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the bombing, including the current defense minister, Gen. Ahmed Vahidi.

Meanwhile, the Argentinian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday in a statement that Argentina has received “no formal notification” about Iran’s official approval of an agreement for the two countries to jointly probe the AMIA attack.

Iran’s business commissioner to Buenos Aires, Ali Pakdaman, had said a day earlier that Ahmadinejad officially approved the agreement to create a Truth Commission investigating the bombing.

The statement issued by the office headed by Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said that only when the formal notification is received by the foreign ministries of Argentina and Iran will “the deal be put into operation.”

Iran also is believed to be behind the 1992 car bombing that destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242.

Buenos Aires Jewish community marks embassy bombing


The Jewish community of Buenos Aires commemorated the 21st anniversary of a deadly attack on the city's Israeli embassy.

Nearly 1,500 people participated in Sunday's demonstration organized by the embassy to mark the attack, which Argentina and Israel blame on Iran.

On the afternoon of March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the front of the embassy, killing 29 and injuring 242.

Sunday's rally also was protesting the Memorandum of Understanding signed recently between Argentina and Iran on a joint investigation of the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Over Jewish community protests, Argentina's congress last month approved the agreement.

The attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds, is believed to have been carried out under orders from Tehran. Six Iranians are wanted by Interpol in connection with the bombing, including Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.

Maria Eugenia Vidal, vice chief of the Buenos Aires city government, told the crowd on Sunday, “The bomb exploded in the center of Buenos Aires, in the middle of the heart of all Argentinians.”

AMIA President Guillermo Borger told JTA that the number of demonstrators this year was higher than in previous commemorations, in part because people wanted to express their opposition to the agreement with Iran.

U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez also attended the demonstration. No high-ranking members of Argentina's national government participated.

Argentina’s Congress approves joint investigation with Iran


Argentina's Congress approved an agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires AMIA Jewish Community Center.

The legislative body's Lower House early on Thursday approved the bill establishing the joint program  with 131 votes in favor and 113 against, after 13 hours of debate. The accord was approved last week in the Argentine Congress' Upper House.

No single political representative of the main opposition parties voted for the bill, but the government party has its own majority in both chambers.

The main institutions of the Jewish community organized a demonstration Thursday morning outside the parliament building, which gathered about one hundred critics of the agreement and the government.

Minister of Foreign Relations  Hector Timerman, who is Jewish,  was questioned Wednesday during debate of the bill in the Lower House by legislators about commercial and geopolitical interest related to this agreement. Timerman guaranteed that “no other issue had been discussed” with Iran.

He later fought with the Republican Proposal, or PRO, Party caucus leader, Federico Pinedo, who inquired “why the agreement had been reached on the anniversary of the Holocaust. It was an Iranian imposition?” he asked.

Timerman reacted by urging the lawmaker to “take back” what he had said. “It is clear that none of you ever lost anyone in the Holocaust. You keep adding fuel to the fire and keep using the Holocaust politically. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You deeply offended my soul,” he yelled.

In his five hours in Congress to debate with lawmakers the day before the vote, Timerman had to listen to other nasty expressions about his Jewish condition. “You are giving up on the Jewish and Argentine people. If I were you, I would have resigned before signing this embarrassment,” lawmaker Elisa Carrio told Timerman.

Also Thursday the Iranian parliament began examining the AMIA agreement between Iran and Argentina, confirmed the Chairman of the Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran Alaeddin Boroujerdi, according to the Teheran Times.

The Teheran Times reported in a news brief that the two countries have agreed to set up an international “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people.

AMIA and the local Jewish political umbrella DAIA slammed the agreement, saying that Iran is not reliable and that: “The truth in this case is established by Argentinian justice; we need the Iranians here to face Argentinian justice, not a truth commission with Iran,” DAIA President Julio Scholosser told JTA..

Global leaders have criticized the pact. “The idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris in a statement issued in late January. “It is offensive not only to the families of the 85 murdered and hundreds wounded, but to the entire Argentine nation, which for more than 18 years has sought justice.”

“We are surprised that the Argentine government would team up with the Iranian government to seek out justice,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan Jacobs said in a statement. “Given Iran’s deplorable judicial track record and its refusal to turn over those previously implicated in the bombings, there’s little reason to believe anything substantial will come out of this commission.”

Timerman defends himself, his Judaism over agreement with Iran


Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman, defended himself against accusations that he betrayed his Judaism by signing an agreement with Iran.

“I did not betray my Judaism in the pact with Iran because we are trying to solve the AMIA bombing case,” Timerman said Monday during an interview with La Red radio. “The move was inspired by the deep humanistic tradition of Judaism and thinking always about the victims and the relatives of the victims.”

Interviewer Luis Novaresio asked Timerman how he could sign the deal with Iran, a country whose president has denied the Holocaust. The deal established a “truth commission” that allows independent judges to interview suspects in the bombing of the Buenos Jewish community center in 1994.

“I did not meet with the Iranians to discuss the Holocaust; I was with them to solve the AMIA case,” Timerman responded. “If I will have the opportunity to talk with them about the Holocaust, they will know what my opinion is.”

Timerman defended the dialogue with Iran and criticized the Israeli position on the issue.

“There are some sectors in Israel that are very close to the government; they do not want any dialogue. They want a military solution to the Iranian problem, and Argentina doesn’t believe in that,” he said.

The Argentinian Upper House is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to ratify the memorandum of understanding with Iran, followed by the Lower House six days later. Timerman will visit the Lower House on Feb. 26 a day before the final vote to defend the agreement signed last month.

A demonstration against the pact is scheduled for Friday in front of the Argentinian embassy in Herzliya Pituach, Israel. The protest was organized by the Facebook group Kehila Latina en Israel.

On Feb. 15, 300 people attended a protest rally against Argentina-Iran cooperation in investigating the AMIA bombing, which killed 95 and injured hundreds. No one has been tried in the case.

“We ask Argentine society’s forgiveness for wasting a great privilege that democracy gave us,” Sergio Bergman, a lawmaker and Reform rabbi, said in a speech at the rally. “We have the first Jewish foreign minister, and that is why we say sorry.”

Argentina’s Timerman slams Israel criticism of Iran pact


Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman hit back at Israeli criticism of a joint commission with Iran on the AMIA bombing on his first day of testimony to his country's Congress.

Both houses of the Congress must approve the “truth commission” before it is made active, and Jewish groups were present at the Senate session Wednesday to make clear their opposition.

Timerman argued that the commission was the best avenue to get at the truth of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires JCC, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Dealing with Iran was not “pleasant,” he said in his testimony, “but our goal is advancing the AMIA case. We want to know the truth about the attack.”

Iran until now has resisted any cooperation with Argentina or international authorities in the bombing.

Timerman, who is Jewish, quoted Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice shall thou pursue.”

He was especially scornful of some Israeli criticism of the proposed pact.

“Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told me that we cannot sign agreement with Iran,” he said. “So maybe he wants that we kidnap the suspects or put a bomb below the car of one of them.”

Also testifying was Julio Schlosser, the president of DAIA, a Jewish umbrella group, who likened the pact to dealing with Holocaust deniers.

“We reject the memorandum because our counterpart is not dependable,” he said.

Iran rejects questioning of defense minister under Argentina agreement


Iran denied that its defense minister will be questioned by an Argentinian judge about his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center.

Ahmed Vahidi, who is under an international arrest warrant by Interpol in connection with the deadly bombing of the AMIA center, would be questioned under the framework of the recent truth commission agreement signed by Argentina and Iran, according to Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman.

“The matter of questioning of some of the Iranian officials is a sheer lie,”  Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “It seems that those who are concerned by the actual agreement are spreading such reports.”

Timerman, who is Jewish, had said that seven Iranians with international arrest warrants against them would be interrogated under the agreement.

“I can assure that he will have to be present when the judge questions them, and he will be,” Timerman said on Jan. 29 during his meeting with relatives of the victims of the AMIA bombing when he was asked specifically about Vahidi.

The bombing, for which no one has been prosecuted, killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Argentinian congressman and leaders from political parties are set to meet Thursday outside the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires to protest the agreement with Iran.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a member of the Buenos Aires municipal legislature, recommended the venue for the protest and debate. He noted that Iranian leaders deny the Holocaust.