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Argentina - Jews

Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America. Estimates of its size vary greatly, from under 300,000 to over 450,000. A study by the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research and the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology, released in 2008, estimated that Roman Catholics constitute 76 percent of the population. According to independent studies, the Jewish community consists of approximately 200,000-250,000 members.

Jews accounted for an estimated 2 percent of the national population in the 1980s; 75 percent of their number resided in Buenos Aires. According to Jewish scholar Seymour B. Liebman, Argentine Jewry was unique for the combination of its size and diversity. Although Buenos Aires had more Jewish organizations per Jewish inhabitant than any other city in the world, these organizations were extremely heterogeneous and shared little in the sense of a common Jewish community. In 1981 it was reported that Argentina had 55 Orthodox synagogues in Buenos Aires served by eight rabbis, five Conservative synagogues served by two rabbis, one Reform temple, at least five Sepharic synagogues, and at least three Sephardic rabbis.

Over the past fifty years, at least, anti-Semitic attitudes in some parts of the population have existed and still persist. These attitudes and prejudices are similar to those that have existed in many other nations and cultures, especially those heavily influenced by religious and nationalistic attitudes widespread before the ecumenical movement began to take root.

A poll conducted by the Gino Germani Institute of the University of Buenos Aires, commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League and the DAIA, found “ingrained, pervasive” anti-Semitic attitudes. Most poll respondents indicated they believed Jews had too much power in the business world and were more loyal to Israel than to Argentina. On occasion these attitudes have helped nourish a more systematic kind of anti-Semitism, associated among other things with violent acts against the Jewish community. The early part of the 20th century, the 1940's, and the 1960's witnessed particularly severe episodes of this kind of violence.

Antisemitism was a force that surfaced in Argentina on occasions; during the "dirty war" some 1,500 were said to have been killed because of their being Jewish. The incidence of anti-Semitism decreased substantially during the AlfonsIn administration. During a visit to the United States in March 1985, AlfonsIn received from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York the first Centennial Medal for Religious Freedom for his "tremendous contribution to religious pluralism" and for restoring "humanity and a renewed sense of dignity to Jews in Argentina."

There is no official policy of anti-Semitism, as the OAS Human Rights Comission reported after its visit to Argentina in 1979. This is the opinion of almost every qualified observer of Argentina. Jews of Argentina exercise their religion without restraint. They have a well-organized and active community life. They participate fully in Argentina'seconomic and cultural life. They are free to emigrate. Jews can legally collect and remit money to Israel.

The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA) maintained a database that tracked anti-Semitic incidents. (No other religious group maintained an equivalent database.) The DAIA received 274 complaints of anti-Semitism during 2010, representing a decrease of 80 percent compared with 2009. The most commonly reported incidents were desecration of Jewish cemeteries, anti-Semitic graffiti, verbal slurs, and other forms of harassment. Jewish organizations highlighted repeated instances of harassment on Internet sites. There were also isolated incidents of assaults on Jewish individuals. For example, in May 2011, a man attacked Rabbi Moshe Cohen, the director of a Jewish orthodox high school in Buenos Aires, shouting anti-Semitic slurs and physically assaulting the rabbi outside the school. City authorities dismissed a Buenos Aires metropolitan police officer after they discovered the officer’s membership in an anti-Semitic youth organization. Most complaints were filed in the city of Buenos Aires, and the DAIA claimed that cases in the provinces were likely underreported.

In June 2011 DAIA authorities filed a formal complaint with the anti-Semitism division of the Federal Police against union leader Luis D’Elia for making anti-Semitic statements. In a radio interview, D’Elia commented on a court case involving Sergio Schoklender, the financial advisor for the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo, who had been indicted along with several colleagues for alleged fraud and misuse of public funds. D’Elia called Schoklender and others under investigation “countrymen,” referring to Israel and Schoklender’s Jewish background. The DAIA alleged that D’Elia’s statements were “judeophobic” and an attempt to “discredit” Schoklender based on his Jewish background. A public prosecutor indicted D’Elia for allegedly violating the Anti-Discrimination Law, and the case remained open at the end of 2011.

The international investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Argentine Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 persons continued. With Interpol assistance, the federal prosecutor investigating the case continued to seek the arrest of eight Iranians for their alleged involvement in the bombing. In July the Iranian Foreign Ministry notified the government of its interest in “cooperating” in the investigation. However, details of the offer were never publicly released and Iran continued to reject requests to extradite Iranians implicated in the attacks. In September President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner stated that the government “could not and should not” reject Iran’s offer of a dialogue, but the government of Iran did not publicly respond to the president’s statement by the end of 2011.

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Page last modified: 30-08-2012 16:51:18 ZULU