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.

Argentines demand independent judiciary in huge street march

Tens of thousands of protesters marched peacefully through the Argentine capital on Wednesday demanding an independent judiciary, as the country reels from the death of a state prosecutor who had been investigating the president.

The protest, one of the biggest during President Cristina Fernandez's seven years in power, took place a month after a state prosecutor who had accused Fernandez of plotting to cover up his investigation into a 1994 bombing was found dead.

Alberto Nisman's death in mysterious circumstances sent shock waves through Argentina ahead of October's presidential elections and has plunged Fernandez's final year in office into turmoil.

“Our democratic values are broken,” lamented protester Eduardo Gonzalez, 46, as torrential rain poured down. “We want an end to corruption.”

Nearby, Estela Girbal, a mother of nine, said she was fed up with the perceived impunity of top officials. “This shows people are tired,” she said.

Wednesday's march was organized by a group of prosecutors who said the rally was to honor Nisman and was not politically motivated. The group has frequently locked horns with Fernandez's leftist government and complained of a culture of intimidation and meddling in Argentina's courts.

Top government officials have accused them of trying to conduct a “judicial putsch” and conspiring with right-wing political opponents to unseat Fernandez.

The White House said on Wednesday it was monitoring the situation in Argentina. A spokesman said Washington was “concerned” about issues surrounding the rule of law and justice that have been laid bare since Nisman's death.

Argentines have long questioned the independence of the judiciary.

It turned a blind eye to the murder of thousands of suspected leftists during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. In the three decades since democracy was restored, Argentines have grown weary of graft scandals and the apparent impunity of senior officials and influential business tycoons.

Protesters waved placards reading “Truth” and “Justice” while others held posters saying “I am Nisman.”

“We want a democracy in which the justice system is blind, independent and not inclined toward any one group,” said Hector Fiore, a retired metal worker who clutched a small Argentine national flag.

Nisman had accused Iran of being behind a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and alleged Fernandez had conspired with the Tehran government to whitewash his investigations in return for economic favors.

Fernandez called the accusation “absurd” and said rogue state security agents who held a grudge against her had misled Nisman's investigation and then killed him. Top officials placed former spy master Antonio Stiusso at the center of the scandal.

Iran has repeatedly denied the accusation.

On Wednesday, the investigator assigned to Nisman's death revealed Stiusso had testified after the government lifted gag orders. Stiusso was one of the Intelligence Secretariat's most powerful yet enigmatic operatives until he was sacked by Fernandez in December.

Dead Argentinian prosecutor had drafted request for president’s arrest

An Argentinian prosecutor found dead in mysterious circumstances last month had drafted a request that President Cristina Fernandez be arrested for conspiring to derail his probe into the deadly bombing of a Jewish center, the investigator into his death said on Tuesday.

The papers were found in the trash at Alberto Nisman's apartment while his property was being scoured for clues over whether the father-of-two committed suicide or was murdered.

He was found in a pool of blood with a single bullet to the head on Jan. 18.

“The drafts are in the file,” Viviana Fein, the lead investigator into Nisman's death, told a local radio station.

The request for Fernandez's arrest, which the prominent pro-opposition daily newspaper Clarin said Nisman drafted in June, was not included in his final 350-page submission to the judiciary delivered days before his death. Instead Nisman called for Fernandez to face questions in court.

On Monday, Fein's office had denied the existence of the document containing the arrest request and the government denounced a Clarin story about it as “garbage”.

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich even dramatically tore up a copy of the paper in his daily news briefing. But on Tuesday, Fein backtracked, saying there had been a misunderstanding between her and her office, and the documents did exist.

“They are properly incorporated into the case file, nothing is missing,” Fein said of the papers on Tuesday.

Nisman spent almost a decade building up a case that Iran was behind the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) that killed 85 people. Iran's government has repeatedly denied the allegation.

Nisman had been due the day after his death to answer questions in Congress about his allegations that Fernandez sought to cover up Iran's involvement in return for Iranian oil. Fernandez has called the claim “absurd”.

Argentine judges are proving reluctant to take on a case some are calling a “judicial hot potato”. Two judges turned down hearing the case on Monday, including one who is already presiding over separate charges of attempts to derail the investigation into the 1994 bombing.

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

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

Argentine soccer club loses points due to anti-Semitic fans

An Argentine soccer club lost points after a penalty was leveled due to anti-Semitic chants made by its fans.

The Argentine Football Association Disciplinary Court meted out the penalty to the Chacarita Juniors soccer club after anti-Semitic chants were made by Chacarita´s fans during a March game against Atlanta, a Jewish-backed soccer club.

“Chaca is coming along the road, killing the Jews to make soap” Chacarita´s fans repeatedly sang during an official match at the Premier B League, on March 11.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw. The day after the incident the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter of complaint to Argentine Football Association President Julio Grondona and the head of its Disciplinary Court, Fernando Mitjans.

In February, 2000 Chacarita fans greeted the Atlanta team with Nazi flags, and threw soap on the field while singing “with the Jews we make soap.” The poor behavior then led to the national football association establishing rules requiring the referee to end or suspend a match due to racist expressions.

In an unprecedented decision, the Disciplinary Court ruled two weeks ago that Chacarita Juniors would lose the points it had obtained in the match.

At the new table of positions revealed on Sunday Chacarita has 2 wins and 13 draws, totaling 19 points. But the club lost one point and is down to 18 points due to the unparalleled punishment.

“This is a positive step in showing a red flag to hatred, and a precedent for other countries,” stated Dr. Shimon Samuels, Simon Wiesenthal Center Director for International Relations.

Founded in 1904, Atlanta is associated with the Jewish community due to the historical support of Jewish fans. In 1963 it became the first Argentine team to visit Israel, where it played and won against the Israel national team. It was the first Argentinean soccer club performance in the Jewish state and also Atlanta’s first meeting against a foreign national team.

The Atlanta playing field once hosted the annual celebrations for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in Argentina until the terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires in July 1994. The open space then was banned to the crowded celebrations for security reasons.

“We expect that this decision will prevent such racist abuses in the future and are ready to cooperate with the AFA in tolerance-building programs for soccer,” added Sergio Widder, Simon Wiesenthal Center Director for Latin America.

Argentine foreign minister visits Jewish leaders

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman visited the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires two months after his government recognized a unilateral Palestinian state.

Timerman, who is Jewish, met with Jewish community leaders Feb. 2 to tell them that the government is working to bring the AMIA bombers to justice. The 1994 attack killed 85 and wounded hundreds. He promised to seek cooperation from the countries he visits as foreign minister.

He also discussed the recent mass Latin American recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state and the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East. The Jewish leaders and Timerman agreed that “democracy is the best way to solve conflicts” in the Middle East, especially in Egypt.

Timerman told AMIA leaders that he has accepted an invitation made by his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, to visit Israel and to help advance the peace process. He is scheduled to travel in the coming weeks to Jerusalem, and invited AMIA leaders to join him.

“My first reaction is to agree,” AMIA President Guillermo Borger told JTA, “so I think that we would accompany him.”

On Dec. 6, Timerman issued an official government statement recognizing a unilateral Palestine state, joining Brazil and triggering mass Latin American support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In response, Borger at the time expressed “concern over the recognition of a state which is not such, and cannot guarantee the security of Israel.”

A month later in Brasilia, Timerman met with Abbas, and they issued a joint statement condemning terrorism and the AMIA attack.

Timerman is well known in the Jewish community for his previous career as a journalist and also as the son of newspaper editor Jacobo Timerman, who was kidnapped in 1970 by the military dictatorship and later released in 1979.

Forced into exile following his release, Jacobo Timerman moved his family to Israel, where he wrote and published two years later “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.” A year later Jacobo Timerman published “The Longest War,” a detailed and personal response to the first few months of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Bombing Suspect Ahmad Vahidi overwhelmingly chosen to be Iran’s defense minister [VIDEO]


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chose Ahmad Vahidi, wanted by Argentina over the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre, as his new defence minister.

Mr Vahidi was strongly supported by Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, with 227 MPs backing him out of 286, Iranian Speaker Ali Larijani said.

Read the full story at


L.A. Jews Aid Argentines

The plight of Argentine Jews hammered by the collapse of their country’s economy was forcefully brought home to a contingent of Los Angeles Jews this month.

Twenty-two young leaders active at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined the United Jewish Communities (UJC)/Ben Gurion Society (BGS) National Young Leadership Mission Oct. 31-Nov. 6.

Standing on the patio of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) center in the city’s La Paternal neighborhood, Brian Weisberg talked with Graciela Estrin, who had come to the center for help. When Weisberg asked Estrin what had brought her there, the woman tearfully revealed her story.

The 43-year-old Estrin explained that she had been unemployed since December 2001, and her husband, a furniture salesman, only earns 500 pesos a month — roughly $140. The eldest of her three children, she continued, had just quit the university so that the family could buy food.

"This was too much to keep standing on our own," said Estrin, who added that she had only come to the center after many weeks of deliberation.

Estrin’s story is one of only many that the 166 UJC/BGS members heard on the mission. The group visited Argentina to get a first-hand look at the situation. According to officials, thousands of Argentine Jews are being assisted by a Jewish welfare network.

The AMIA center, which opened in August to help Jews in the area who were living near the poverty level, is part of the welfare program. About 550 families receive food vouchers, medicine, clothing and subsidies at the facility, which is supported by AMIA and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Monica Cullucar, a JDC staffer in Buenos Aires, used to work with Paula Szwarc at the same Jewish high school. Cullucar’s former colleague has been hit hard by the economic crisis.

"Now I teach only four hours a week of classes in a local private and prestigious university," said Szwarc, a former Fullbright Scholar who taught English at international companies. "Many companies became smaller and quit training their staff."

"I used to earn $1,300 a month," said the 32-year-old divorcee, who has a 9-year-old son. "Now I’m getting $70."

Silvana Bloch, a social worker, said of Szwarc, "She does not talk about her needs, but they are urgent."

One of the mission members, Diana Fiedotin, who represents Los Angeles on the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) National Task Force on Argentina, is the daughter of an Argentine couple.

Fiedotin is involved in the Lifeline to Argentina project, which matches Jewish American families with Jewish Argentine families. The project provides the Argentines with a year’s worth of food vouchers, medicines and day school or Jewish Agency programs. The local Tzedaka Foundation in Buenos Aires and a JDC partner coordinates the program in Argentina.

"The program started last Yom Kippur and has already gathered $40,000," Fiedotin said.

Michele Sackheim, national co-chair of the UJC/BGS mission and the sponsor of a family, said visiting the Argentine Jews was like looking in a mirror. She said the Argentines were educated, well-traveled — "we can relate [to them]."

"It is so emotional because we can all see ourselves in the Argentine community," Sackheim said. "But you need to look beneath to really know that something is happening, and that is why the Argentine story is so compelling."

Sackheim related her visit to the family she sponsors. She said the family’s situation was typical of what many Argentine Jews are experiencing.

"The [husband] used to sell medical materials," she said. "They had a good standard of living. They bought their own apartment, and they even showed me the receipts of contributions they made to the Jewish community when they were prosperous."

"Now," Sackheim related tearfully, "the couple is looking for jobs. Their two kids have a scholarship in a Jewish school. This is so emotional."

Daniel Yoffe, executive director of the Tzedaka Foundation, told the mission, "Argentine Jews lost their dignity. They are like us, but they suddenly became poor."

Despite the desperate economic situation, Yoffe said, Argentine Jews remain involved in their community to the best of their abilities. He said they have contributed 3.8 million pesos — roughly $1.07 million — this year and, "we have just gotten 800 new donors."

Fiedotin, who has made three trips to Argentina this year, has seen the Argentine Jews’ reactions change as the crisis continues. In February, she said, there was panic. In August, there was resignation to the situation and no hope.

On the latest trip, Fiedotin said Argentine Jews have accepted "their new reality and are adjusting to being lower-middle class, having middle-class values and lower-class living standards."

Throughout the trip, the BGS mission members encountered recipients of social assistance programs who thanked them for the help that the Jewish community has received.

"It makes me uncomfortable to be thanked," Sackheim said. "The whole Jewish world is like my family. I know they would have done the same for us."

The Jewish Federation’s Jews in Crisis Fund is still accepting donations for the Jews of Argentina. For more information, contact (323) 761-8200.

Plans for Future Aid

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)’s Task Force on Argentina says that Argentina’s Jewish community is restructuring itself, cutting costs and raising money, but the country deteriorated even more dramatically in recent months. JAFI is hoping to come up with $44 million to meet that challenge.
Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of United Jewish Communities (the umbrella organization over JAFI, JDC and the federations) believes another 6,000 Argentine Jews will make aliyah in 2003 if JAFI can provide special aliyah/absorption funding as they did in 2002. Part of the $44 million will go to aliyah and absorption, welfare relief in Argentina, and funding to keep poor children in the Jewish school system. “Without special funding, thousands will soon drop out and be lost,” Hoffman wrote in a recent newsletter.

Passover Rescue

Five months ago, Beatrice Ballageure was struggling to make ends meet as a single, 47-year-old Jewish woman living in the capital city of an economically depressed Argentina. She had lost her job several months earlier, but she owned her own apartment and had enough money in the bank to afford basic expenses. She had friends with jobs, and she knew she could rely on her family if real trouble ever came.

Then the bottom fell out of Argentina’s economy.

The president announced that the country was defaulting on its public debt, the peso was devalued and immediately went into a free-fall, unemployment surged to 22 percent and the government froze all bank accounts, cutting off millions of Argentines from their life savings. In addition, food riots broke out, and the president, along with three of his successors, resigned.

Suddenly, Ballageure was out of options.

Last week, Ballageure found herself in a food line at Buenos Aires’ Jewish community center, waiting for a handout of basic foodstuffs for Passover. Over the course of three months, her sister had moved to Israel, all but two of her friends had lost their jobs and the few pesos she had left in the bank had been frozen and was rapidly shrinking in value. On top of that, she needed food to eat for the holiday.

“I was middle class,” said Ballageure, clutching her handbag in line at the Asociacian Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), Buenos Aires’ central Jewish community facility. “Now I have no class.”

Ballageure is just one of the tens of thousands of Jews — and millions of Argentines — who find themselves out of money and out of luck this Passover season. For Argentina’s once-wealthy Jewish community, estimated at 250,000, the trappings of wealth remain, but the money is gone.

Unaccustomed to their sudden impoverishment, many of Argentina’s new Jewish poor are too ashamed to ask for help. However, their community leaders are sounding the alarm, and U.S. Jews have begun to respond.

Earlier this month, Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, and Dr. Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), led a group of a dozen rabbis on a two-day mission to Buenos Aires to meet with Argentine Jewish leaders and figure out how to distribute approximately $100,000 in relief aid for the purchase of Passover food.

The funds were raised for Argentina’s Jews by nearly 70 synagogues across North America, including several in the Los Angeles area: Sinai Temple, Temple Kol Tikvah, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Kehillat Israel, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom and Congregation Kol Ami.

“It’s like [Manhattan’s] Upper East Side suddenly went belly-up,” said Schneier of the plight of Argentine Jewry. “They still have their nice clothes and expensive homes, but they suddenly have no money to buy food and can’t make their monthly maintenance payments. It’s unbelievable.”

Bypassing the usual Jewish communal charity mechanisms, the group delivered the money directly to 32 synagogues in Argentina, many of which have had to open soup kitchens to feed their members. The checks were cashed at exchange centers rather than banks — where withdrawals are severely restricted — and the Argentine synagogues used the cash to buy food that was distributed to congregants and other needy Jews before the holiday.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, spiritual leader of Woodland Hills’ Temple Kol Tikvah, took part in the mission, and he brought checks from the seven Southern California synagogues.

The swift fundraising operation was a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of maot hitim, giving food to the poor for Passover, said Schneier, the group’s president. “Usually we give maot hitim before Passover to poor Jews in New York,” said Schneier, who is the rabbi of Hampton Synagogue in Long Island, N.Y. “But when we focused this year on the issue of maot hitim, we knew there was a community of deep financial need in Argentina.”

Last month, the United Jewish Communities pledged $40 million in emergency aid for Argentine relief, $35 million of which is being allocated to aid Argentine aliyah and absorption in Israel, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency, and $5 million of which is being spent locally in Argentina, under the aegis of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Dr. Bernardo Kliksberg, president of the Human Development Commission of the Latin-American Jewish Congress, said Argentina’s woes pose nothing less than a problem of “physical survival” for the country’s Jews. “This community has no [financial] resources,” he said in Buenos Aires. “There are 50,000 poor Jews in Argentina, and only 20,000 have the protection of the Jewish community. Today we have a problem of the survival of Jews and of the Argentine Jewish community.”

“We came so that when we say in our homes on Passover behind closed doors, ‘Whoever is hungry, let them come and eat,’ we will not be lying,” said Singer, explaining the timing of the rabbis’ trip.

“It’s only a beginning,” Singer said. “We shall return.”

Federations Send Aid to Argentina

The United Jewish Communities has pledged more than $40 million this year for the rescue and relief of the Jews of Argentina.

Most U.S. federations say they are committed to meeting the goal that the umbrella organization has set to aid Argentine Jews, whose country has been hit by a severe economic crisis in recent months.

"There is a broad recognition that responding to the crisis of the Jewish community in Argentina is precisely the reason why the federation system exists — to be able to make certain that people have food and medicine and to make certain that those who want to leave can do so," said John Ruskay, executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York.

Of the $40 million pledged for this year, $35 million will be allotted to the Jewish Agency for Israel to manage aliyah (immigration to Israel). The figure is based on an estimated 5,000 Argentines making aliyah to Israel this year.

The remaining funds will be directed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to provide food and medicine. There are approximately 200,000 Jews in Argentina, thousands of them now reported living in poverty.

"The entire situation is very fluid," according to Richard Bernstein, co-chair of the UJC’s Argentinian Response Task Force.

An increase in dollars to meet an increase in demand is entirely possible, he said. The task force will monitor the situation to adjust the budget accordingly and create new budgets each year for at least the next few years.

"If we do the job right with the first families that come to Israel, more will come because the situation in Argentina isn’t going to get better for a very long time," said Stephen Hoffman, UJC’s president.

Despite the situation in Israel, Hoffman said, "aliyah is a real viable alternative for people to consider."

Local federations have until the end of the calendar year to turn over what has been designated as their "fair share" of the total. Each federation’s percentage will be determined by the size of its annual campaign as it relates to the sum total of all of the federations’ campaigns — a figure that is approximately $900 million.

Chicago, for example, based upon a campaign last year that raised $67.2 million, is expected to contribute nearly $3 million to the Argentine fund.

Around the country, federations are just beginning to determine how to raise the money. Some reported that they will conduct separate campaigns for the Argentine Jews, while others will take the money from their regular campaign funds.

Chicago, which is being asked to contribute the second largest amount after New York, plans to fold the Argentina package into its annual campaign drive. The city is already 15 percent ahead of its mark last year, according to federation officials, and plans to dedicate all the funds that top its goal to, "all the special needs Israel is encountering," which includes the Argentine aliyah.

While most federations expressed full support for the amount pledged by the UJC, some had questions. Martin Abramowitz, vice president for planning and agency relations of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, expressed some concern over the UJC calculation.

Although Abramowitz said his federation "will respond in some positive way" to the request and expressed deep respect for the work of the UJC’s overseas partners — the Jewish Agency and the JDC — he said Boston required a "better understanding of the Jewish Agency’s prediction" of costs.

He specifically questioned the Jewish Agency’s projection that it would cost $7,000 for each person to arrive in Israel and be absorbed — and how that figure relates to the package of benefits that the Israeli government is offering a family of four.

David Sarnat, executive vice president of the Jewish Agency’s North American section based in Atlanta, cited some specific costs, including $1,950 for employment training, $1,630 for transportation to Israel and $235 for health care. He said it cost $6,000 to bring each Ethiopian to Israel 10 years ago, when Israel conducted a major program specifically for them.

Sarnat said the UJC approved the numbers after a fact-finding mission to Argentina last month and study of the costs.

"It’s a satisfactory accounting that leaves no questions unanswered," Hoffman said. The Jewish Agency submitted its analysis of past and future funds, and the UJC will be sharing those details in the coming weeks, he said.

Ruskay said this year’s request, which will cost the New York federation nearly $7 million, is a substantial but moderate one. The real test will be if the numbers continue to grow, which would suggest that the requests for aliyah in January and February were only a blip after December’s economic crash, he said.

In Cleveland, federation officials have already built the Argentine crisis into their campaign. "The bottom line is we are committed to this," said Michael Bennett, spokesman for the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. "It’s just what we do as Jews — help Jews who are in trouble," he stressed. "I don’t see this being any different."