Was the attack on the Argentinean rabbi antisemitic?

“We know you are the rabbi of the AMIA,” the assailants reportedly shouted, referring to the local Jewish cultural organization Argentine Israelite Mutual Association.

February 28, 2019 02:58
3 minute read.
Chief Rabbi of Argentina violently beaten in his home .

The Chief Rabbi of Argentina Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich. (photo credit: AMIA JEWISH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION)


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A brutal attack on Argentina’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, 62, in his Buenos Aires home early Monday morning has raised concerns about a new wave of antisemitism in the country.

According to police, about seven unidentified assailants broke into Davidovich’s home, restrained his wife, violently beat him and then stole cash and some valuable items. Davidovich is currently recuperating in hospital for wounds – including a punctured lung and several broken ribs – described as serious but not life-threatening.

“We know you are the rabbi of the AMIA,” the assailants reportedly shouted, referring to the local Jewish cultural organization Argentine Israelite Mutual Association. AMIA called the attackers’ comment “a cause for alarm.”

Davidovich has served as chief rabbi since 2013, working at the AMIA headquarters that was the target of the country’s deadliest terrorist attack in 1994, in which 85 people were killed and hundreds were wounded. Prosecutors have blamed the attack on Iran, but the perpetrators have never been brought to justice.

Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor who investigated the AMIA attack, was found dead in his home, from a gunshot wound to the head, in January 2015. It was just before he was due to give testimony, and several days after he had accused former president Cristina Kirchner of conspiring with Iran to deflect the investigation into the bombing.

Argentina’s sizable Jewish community, numbering an estimated 180,000 according to AMIA, is understandably shaken by the attack. Successive governments have failed to resolve the 1994 case, and several former government officials – including ex-president Carlos Menem, a former judge and two former prosecutors – are set to be sentenced today after being convicted of covering up or thwarting the investigation.

Argentinean President Mauricio Macri posted a message on Twitter condemning the attack against the chief rabbi and pledging to find the assailants. The president’s human rights secretary, Claudio Avruj, added that Argentina needs to become a society “where there are no signs of antisemitism, and we cannot be indifferent.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wished the rabbi a speedy recovery, saying that, “We must not let antisemitism rear its head. I strongly condemn the recent acts of antisemitism and call on the international community to take action against it.”

President Reuven Rivlin telephoned Davidovich, “to find out how you are and to express my concern about the safety of the large Jewish community you lead.” He promised that, “The State of Israel will do everything necessary to protect Jews wherever they choose to live and will take any steps to protect us from danger. We will not allow those who seek our harm to pursue us.”
Curiously, Argentina’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Isaac Sacca voiced skepticism that the attack against his Ashkenazi counterpart was antisemitic.

“People do not break into the houses of religious leaders,” he told The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon. “There is great respect for religious leaders. This is a very unusual incident.”

Sacca suggested that the motive for the attack could have been criminal or related to Davidovich’s work as a chief rabbi and rabbinical judge. And a report on Kikar Hashabbat, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news website, cited sources claiming the motive could have been a recent decision by Davidovich that required a prominent member of the Jewish community to grant a divorce to his wife.

But other leaders of the Jewish community were adamant that this was indeed an antisemitic attack. They noted that it came just a day after seven Jewish graves were defaced with Nazi symbols in San Luis in western Argentina.

One leader, who asked not to be named, said this would be the right time not only for the Argentinean government to find and prosecute the perpetrators of the attack against Davidovich, but also to finally reveal to the world who was behind the AMIA bombing 25 years ago – and indict those responsible. If, indeed, Iranian officials orchestrated the horrific attack, Argentina should at the very least announce severe punitive measures against Tehran.

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