July 20, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
A quarter century after 85 people died in the terrorist bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina, two of Canada’s major Jewish organizations and some leading politicians continue to demand justice for the victims.
No one was ever charged or convicted for the July 18, 1994 attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) centre in downtown Buenos Aires – a fact many believe means that the scars from the event can never heal.
“We have seen a quarter century of justice denied in this case,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a July 16 YouTube commemoration of the attack. “An entire generation has passed without a single perpetrator being brought to justice for this crime.”
On the morning of July 18, 1994, a van loaded with explosives was driven at the front entrance of the seven-storey headquarters of the Argentina-Israel Mutual Association in the capital, Buenos Aires.
The AMIA building housed all of Jewish Argentina’s major organizations, as well as a theatre, library and a job bank. It was where community members went to arrange a funeral, and it housed the precious records of a hundred years of Jewish life in the country.
When the dust cleared, 85 people had been killed and 300 injured. It remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in Argentina’s modern history.
It is widely believed to have been carried out by terrorists linked to Iran, with suspected involvement from Argentina’s then-president Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian descent (last year, a court cleared Menem of covering up the attack, but the court jailed the retired judge who led the investigation into the bombing, along with an ex-intelligence chief).
Alberto Nisman, a state prosecutor who tried to investigate the incident, was murdered in 2015 on the day he was expected to testify before Argentina’s congress that the attack was carried out by Hezbollah terrorists, with help from Argentine accomplices.
The current government of Argentina continues to push, without success, for a full accounting from the previous regime. Despite that failure, the country’s ambassador to Canada told the B’nai Brith memorial the incident has not been forgotten.
“This was a disgusting and cursed attack,” Eugenio Curia said. “This was a real crime against humanity.
“Our government has been pledging its commitment to find the people responsible for this attack,” he added. “The idea is to prosecute and condemn the people responsible for this, but we need other state friends to achieve this.”
That commitment to pursue some form of justice for the victims of the attack was echoed by Canadian politicians taking part in the event.
Peter Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, said it is clear the government of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Hezbollah were involved in the attack. Despite this, he accused the Liberal government of continuing to stall on a Conservative motion to have the IRGC declared a terrorist organization.
Earlier this year B’nai Brith launched a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to force action on the issue. It accuses the government of “failure to carry out the will of Parliament.”
For Manitoba Conservative MP Marty Morantz, that determination is important in facing up to the wave of antisemitism sweeping the world today.
“Antisemitism has not gone away and is unfortunately on the rise today,” he said. “We must be clear that there is no room in Canada for this kind of intolerance and discrimination.”
Away from political outrage, the attack remains a vivid scar on the memory of people who lived through it.
Anita Weinstein, for example, told the B’nai Brith event she had walked into the building that morning heading for her second floor office at the front of the structure.
“A few minutes later, I remembered I had to see a colleague at the rear of the building, and that made the great difference for me,” she said. “As soon as I got there we heard a loud explosion and material started to fall from the ceiling. There was an intense darkness and cloud of dust that covered us and we could hear panic and shouting everywhere.”
In a separate commemoration event on Facebook, representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) remembered the attack as the event that changed the world for Argentine Jews.
Nico Slobinski and Graciela Najenson both work for CIJA in Winnipeg now. In 1994, however, they lived in Buenos Aires and felt the pain of the attack.
“There was a cloud of dust and smoke that could be seen for miles that day,” Soblinski recalled. “That same dark cloud that descended on downtown Buenos Aires descended on all of us.”
Soblinski said he lost close family friends among the 85 dead, and recalled how the attack added to his family’s desire to seek a safer home in the world.
“We had many conversations around the dinner table about this new, pervasive feeling we now had that we were no longer safe in this place we had called home for four generations,” he said.
Najenson recalled the Jewish community’s new obsession with security after the attack, and the effect that had on her.
“We had to realize that now there were always barricades in front of the building that were there to protect us, but this was not the way we should live,” she said.
In 2014, Yitzhak Aviran, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina from 1993 to 2000, said that the perpetrators of the attack had, for the most part, been eliminated by Israeli security forces operating abroad.