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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

Iran, Argentina to meet over Jewish center bombing


Iran and Argentina were set to open bilateral negotiations to discuss the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

The Argentinian Foreign Ministry said that a “work session” would be held Monday between legal representatives of both countries at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland.

Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who is Jewish, met Sept. 27 with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, at U.N. headquarters in New York to discuss the AMIA bombing case.

The attack on the Jewish community’s main complex in Buenos Aires killed 85 and wounded hundreds. Iran is accused of directing the bombing that allegedly was carried out by the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah. Following their meeting, Timerman and Salehi issued a joint statement announcing that they would continue negotiations through government officials in Geneva.

Israel, the United States and the Argentinian Jewish community have spoken out against the meetings. Relatives of AMIA victims and Jewish leaders also have urged their government not to negotiate with Iran.

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 one has been convicted in either of the attacks.

Argentina’s Jews balk at negotiations with Iran over ‘94 bombing


Relatives of victims of the deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires and Jewish leaders are urging their government not to negotiate with Iran.

Hector Timerman, Argentina’s Jewish foreign minister, met recently at U.N. headquarters in New York with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, about the July 1994 bombing on the Jewish community's main building, and the two countries said they would continue negotiations through government officials in Geneva.

Iran is accused of directing the attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds. The Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah allegedly carried out the attack.

“The only Iranian offering of cooperation that we accept is to submit the accused to the courts of our country, where they will enjoy guarantees and rights of defense,” declared a document signed Wednesday at the rebuilt AMIA headquarters by the relatives and Jewish leaders.

“As victims of the attack, we are not ready to endorse a new Iranian maneuver whose sole purpose is to ensure impunity for fugitives and to prevent justice.”

Among those signing were Guillermo Borger, president of AMIA; Aldo Donzis, president of the DAIA, the country’s umbrella Jewish community’s group; and 21 relatives of victims of the blast.

Argentinian Jewish leaders urge foreign minister to not meet Iranian counterpart


Argentinian Jewish leaders are strongly urging their country to reject Iran’s request for a meeting of their respective foreign ministers at the UN General Assembly next week.

The Argentinian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced that Iran’s Ali Akbar Salehi had requested an audience with Hector Timerman to discuss the AMIA bombing case.

Argentina has accused Iran government of directing the bombing that the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah is accused of carrying out. The 1994 attacked on the Jewish community’s main building killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more. No arrests have been made in the case, but six Iranians – including Gen. Ahmed Vahidi, the country’s defense minister — have been on the Interpol most wanted list since 2007 in connection with it.

“The government must demand that Iran collaborates with justice and that all Iranian suspects that have international arrest warrants by Interpol are brought before the Argentinian courts” Aldo Donzis, the head of Argentina Jewish umbrella organization DAIA, told JTA.

Likewise, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to the Argentinian government questioning the proposed meeting.

“No dialogue between Argentina and Iran can be valid until justice is obtained for the victims of the AMIA bombing and Iran – in violation of the UN Charter – abandons its genocidal nuclear program targeting Israel, a state friendly to Argentina,” Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director of international relations, told JTA.

Tehran announced in a July 16, 2011 statement that it was willing to hold “constructive dialogue” with Argentina to “shed all possible light” on the case. It offered condolences to the families of those killed while denying responsibility for the blast.

In October 2010, Iran rejected Argentina's proposal to put its accused citizens on trial in a neutral country.

Rites Mark ’94 Bombing of Jewish Center in Argentina


Although for most Americans — or even American Jews — the date of July 18, 1994, does not strike the melancholy chord that Sept. 11, 2001 does, for the Jewish population of Argentina it is a date as infamous as any in the history of the Argentine nation.

On that morning in 1994, the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires was bombed, demolishing the building and leaving at least 85 dead and 300 wounded — the most lethal anti-Semitic occurrence since World War II.
Among those affected were many members of the small but growing Argentine Jewish community who now reside in Southern California. In total, there are roughly 5,000 Jewish families of Latin American origin in greater Los Angeles — the majority from Argentina.

Many of them lost friends and relatives that day or were there in the days that followed to sift through the rubble with gloves and masks, looking for survivors and the bodies of victims.

Marcelo Brikman of Simi Valley lost his 20-year-old nephew, Emiliano.
Omar Zayat of North Hollywood worked around the corner from the AMIA building. He’d left Buenos Aires on July 17 to go to the beach with friends, without telling his family, and returned on July 18 to find that they had searched for him in the rubble and had concluded that he was dead.

Zayat now serves as the director of the Latin American Jewish Association of Los Angeles (LAJA).

“It made me pay more attention, become more proactive — it made me work with a “never again” attitude,” Zayat said. “I always keep it in mind.”

Despite the pain and loss of July 18, 1994, LAJA members remain equally discountenanced by the Argentine government’s failure to conduct honest investigations into the attack and punish its perpetrators. Although Argentina, the United States and Israel believe Hezbollah, with the support of Iran, was responsible for the bombing, the Argentine government has failed to hold anyone legally responsible.

There is an ongoing investigation of irregularities in the original AMIA trial. It is widely suspected that the Argentine government of President Carlos Menem accepted bribes from Iran to shield investigations into the bombing. In 2005, the judge that presided over the original faulty legal proceedings was impeached, but Menem has yet to be held accountable.

“The government always treated it as just the Jews’ problem, not the entire country’s problem,” said Mirta Lipzsyc, a LAJA board member who was living in Buenos Aires at the time of the bombing. “Never again. Never again is what I tell myself.”

It was with the “never again” spirit that LAJA commemorated the 12th anniversary of the bombing last month at the New Jewish Community Center at Milken in West Hills.

“Today it is more evident to us than ever that justice will be only served when all those who are responsible — those who planned, those who executed, those who concealed, those who covered up and those who allowed it — are found, tried and punished,” Lipzsyc read at the commemoration from a statement by Memoria Activa, or Active Memory in English, an Argentine organization that promotes remembrance of the bombing and seeks legal justice for those responsible.

LAJA members also viewed an Argentine docudrama titled, “18-J,” a collection of narratives of victims’ lives during the period leading up to the attack and those of their families in its aftermath.

The AMIA building was the headquarters of a community-based Jewish network in the Argentine capital. Many of the attack’s victims were young people seeking help finding a job at AMIA’s employment bureau.

LAJA began in January 2005 with a model similar to that of AMIA in mind, one based around the community center as opposed to the temple. Its founding members were a group of recent Argentine Jewish immigrants fleeing their country’s economic crisis and surging waves of anti-Semitism.

The organization soon grew to include Jewish immigrant families from all over Latin America who were unable to afford standard Southern California Jewish life and sought an inexpensive community-based alternative.

LAJA programming at the Milken center, which functions as a headquarters, includes weekly soccer matches, barbecues, Israeli dancing, body expression classes, singles’ nights, and children’s swimming, arts, crafts and games, among other activities.

The viewing of “18-J” was part of a series of Latin American movie nights and discussions hosted by LAJA for its 400 members.

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.

+