BUENOS AIRES – Tens of thousands thronged the streets here Wednesday in a silent march of solidarity with the memory of state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, 30 days after he was found dead.
But this seemingly benign show of support for a man who for the past decade had been spearheading an investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center – the Argentinean Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) – has deteriorated into a polarizing political act that has split the country’s society.
Argentina’s Jewish community, which numbers about 180,000 and is the largest in South America, has not been immune to the polarizing effects of the march.
The Jewish community is torn. Should the Jews join the march to honor Nisman, who was Jewish, and thus risk hurting relations with the government? Should they take part precisely because they wish to criticize the government? Perhaps they should stay away from the march in protest against what many see as a corrupt judicial system and Nisman’s failed investigation? Or perhaps they should oppose the march out of a show of support for the government or at least out of discontent with its politicization? Opposition politicians, eyeing general elections slated for October, have attempted to use the march in Nisman’s honor as a platform for attacking the government of Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner.
Indeed, Nisman’s investigation led him to a direct confrontation with the government.
Four days before Nisman died, he had accused Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of a spectacular crime. The two were the “authors and accomplices of an aggravated cover-up and obstruction of justice,” Nisman told a Buenos Aires court.
The two had allegedly protected the perpetrators of the bombing of AMIA, which left 85 people dead and hundreds wounded and was the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s recent history. Nisman was convinced that the Iranian government and agents of the Hezbollah were behind the bombing.
Meanwhile, members of the Kirchner government, and Kirchner herself, have accused Nisman’s fellow prosecutors in the State Prosecutors Office who organized the march of attempting to destabilize the government.
Still others within Argentinean society claim that the march is an attempt to cover up widespread corruption within the justice system – including the State Prosecutor’s Office.
While some Jewish organizations have opted to distance themselves from the march – either because they do not want to clash openly with the government or because they see the justice system as irredeemably corrupt – the largest Jewish organizations have chosen to participate in the march, but have been careful not to align themselves with opposition forces.
Daniel Berliner, director of the Jewish News Agency and a former spokesman for AMIA, said that it is not good for the Jewish community’s two largest organizations – AMIA and the Delegation of Argentinean-Israeli Associations – to be at odds with the government.
“Good relations with the government are important no matter what your political opinion is,” said Berliner.
Waldo Wolff, vice president of the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), the umbrella organization of more than 125 different Argentinean Jewish organizations, explained why his organization and AMIA have decided to take part in the march.
“This march is about Nisman,” Wolff said. “We want to show how much people want to honor Nisman. But it is also about how many people are against hurting his memory.”
Wolff, who is the most critical voice against the government within the large Jewish institutions, accused the Kirchner government of attempting to discredit Nisman.
“We honor Nisman because the government has chosen not to,” he said.
Wolff, a son of Holocaust survivors, said that every time he appears on TV his twitter account receives anti-Semitic missives, particularly those directed at Israel. “Jewish Zionist repression” or “Israel, go away” are some examples.
Wolff estimated that “95 percent” of the Jews favored taking part in the march. However, some heads of Jewish organizations have said they would not attend.
Victor Gitter and Laura Ginsberg, heads of APEMIA, an organization that represents the families of the AMIA bombing, said they were opposed to participating in the march.
“We have a problem with the role of the prosecutors in this march,” said Ginsberg.
“They are part of the judicial process which is corrupt. We have to make it clear that we do want not any connection with this process.”
Gitter and Ginsberg are calling for the creation of a commission of inquiry that is independent of the Argentinean judicial system and that would be manned by writers, journalists, lawyers, relations of the victims, and human rights activist and Nobel Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
Though Gitter and Ginsberg do not rule out the possibility that Iran and Hezbollah are involved in the AMIA bombing, they say that Nisman failed to provide adequate proof.
They say that there is no doubt that the Argentina’s premier intelligence body, the Secretariat of Intelligence (also known by its former acronym SIDE), was involved in the bombing. But a variety of local and international political interests have facilitated a cover up for the past two decades.
Two other organizations which represent the victims and their family and friends, such as 18J (a reference to July 18, 1994, the date of the AMIA bombing) and Memoria Activa have also announced they would not take part in the march.
Journalist Santiago O’Donnell said that the march is “a valid expression of discontent regarding many things wrong in the Argentinean justice system.”
O’Donnell said that many are marching to express their “rejection of a government on its way out that has been plagued by corruption scandals and erratic economic policies and that has made many enemies for good and bad reasons.”
He went on to say that many are marching to express their sympathy for Nisman’s family.
“However, I have my reservations because my work...showed me that Nisman is not an exemplary prosecutor or the hero many marchers want to see in him.”
O’Donnell said that Nisman “was pupeteered by an obscure intelligence agent and that he botched the AMIA investigation after many years of advantageous press coverage and a lavishly financed investigative unit, with personnel that is hard to justify in terms of lack of legal expertise... and no investigative results to speak of.”