Argentina: Between ayatollahs and democracies

Israel is a potential bridge to facilitating Argentina's access to the United States.

AMIA bomb (photo credit: Esteban Alterman/Bloomberg )
AMIA bomb
(photo credit: Esteban Alterman/Bloomberg )
Cristina Kirchner is a rare case of a woman reelected as president: In a landslide victory last week, she received 54 percent of the vote, followed by the Socialist Front with a meager 17%.
Like the first female president of Argentina, Kirchner is the widow of her predecessor. But unlike Isabel Peron – who took office more than 30 years ago when her husband, president Juan Perón, died – Kirchner has now been duly elected to the presidency in her own right.
Both Peron and Kirchner belong to the Peronist movement, second to none in its influence on Latin America’s political history despite its nebulous ideology.
Kirchner is one of the few ideologues.
Consistent with a populist approach, she advocates heavy-handed state intervention in the economy, seemingly oblivious to the modern Greek tragedy currently unfolding in Athens.
Her strategy to avert a deficit implosion, such as the one Argentina suffered in 2001 during its worst crisis ever, is to appeal for more credit abroad.
This is where Israel enters the picture, not as a financier, but as a potential bridge to facilitating access with the US.
The Peronist platform has always been confrontational toward the US.
Argentina’s current foreign minister, Hector Timerman, has many contacts in Washington, where he had served as ambassador until four months ago, when he was summoned to replace a minister who failed to demonstrate unconditional loyalty to Kirchner.
Timerman is also a Jew with close family in Israel and the son of the late Jacobo Timerman, a famous left-wing journalist who came on aliya in 1979 after being jailed and tortured by the Argentinian military. The elder Timerman wrote a regular column in an Israeli newspaper, but he failed to achieve the success he’d had in Buenos Aires, and he returned there some three years later. He penned a book criticizing Israel, among other things because it followed the pattern of Peronist government, the same ideology to which his son now adheres.
Hector Timerman brought the relationship with the US to one of its lowest points, and recently joined with Brazil against Israel in supporting the bid for the recognition of an inexistent Palestine at war with the Jewish state.
Economic hardship has necessitated Argentina reinvent its relationship with America, and it is likely to succeed this week, as President Barack Obama has requested a meeting with Kirchner in Cannes during the G-20 meeting. At that meeting, the strong government of a staunchly democratic Argentina will ask the US’s help to renegotiate its debt with the Paris Club of banks (where the US is the strongest of its 19 members, and its 13 associate members include both Israel and Argentina).
BUT WHAT will Argentina give in exchange for the US support? Kirchner might offer to commit to a more aggressive stance against Iran’s growing influence in South America, but really it is Argentina that should be leading the anti-ayatollah line, not the US.
Iran perpetrated the two most deadly terrorist attacks on Argentina’s soil, in 1992 and 1994, which left 100 people dead and hundreds forever maimed.
The first attack was on the AMIA building, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, and it was thoroughly investigated by a highly professional team of 40 specialists led by prosecutor Alberto Nisman. That committee’s findings spelled out irrefutable conclusions regarding Iran’s involvement, which were fully accepted and implemented by the Interpol.
Nisman has visited Israel several times and met with the president of the Supreme Court, government ministers and judges. He has received several awards for his work.
In Buenos Aires last week, Nisman met with Dan Restrepo, President Obama’s senior adviser on Latin America, and the person leading the US’s anti-terrorist policy. Nisman updated Restrepo on his investigation against Iran, including his team’s findings regarding the link between the perpetrators of the 1994 AMIA attack and Abdul Kadir, who attempted to blow up New York’s/ JFK International /Airport two months ago.
But regardless of Iran’s bloody history vis-à-vis Argentina, Kirchner’s government believes it is in its interest to use any future anti-Iran stance as a negotiating card in the game of rapprochement with the US.
The Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), the political representative body of Argentinean Jews, maintains close ties to the Kirchner government, and hardly raises an eyebrow about Argentina’s thaw toward Iran. DAIA seemed unperturbed when, in stark contrast to its behavior in last year’s UN General Assembly, the Argentinean representative respectfully listened this year to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ranting, which excluded any hint that he’ll extradite those guilty of planning and carrying out terror attacks in Argentina.
This attitude contradicts Kirchner’s previous sensitivity toward the AMIA case, in which she assisted the investigation in 1999 as head of an ad hoc Committee of the Argentine Congress.
Journalist Pepe Eliaschev recently revealed a secret agreement according to which Argentina would forgive Iran’s terror against its citizens in exchange for commercial benefits.
DAIA maintains its nonchalant attitude, not questioning Argentina’s stand on Iran. Unbelievably, DAIA distanced itself from the results of Nisman’s investigation, and didn’t challenge the delegitimization of Israel in the UN. The relationship with Israel is seldom seen by DAIA as part of Argentina’s position toward the local Jewish community, which numbers around 120,000.
THE ARGENTINE government includes many Jewish functionaries, and it is sensitive toward the dangers of Judeophobia.
Jew-hatred in Latin America began in 1890 in Buenos Aires with the publication of the novel The Stock Exchange, in which author Julian Martel blamed “the Jews” for the collapse of Argentina’s finances more than a century ago – when there were almost no Jews there to blame.
It is well known that the phenomenon of Judeophobia is a European trademark exported to the rest of the world with varying degrees of success.
Its outstanding penetration in Argentina is probably due to the fact that it is the most European-oriented country of the Americas. Buenos Aires is affectionately nicknamed “The Paris of South America,” and Martel’s novel precisely quotes from Edouard Drumont’s Judeophobic classic La France Juive of 1886.
However, this new wave of Judeophobia in Latin America is not of European making. It is a recycling of Muslim hatred that has flowed onto its shores via Venezuela, Iran’s staunch supporter and partner.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is probably the world’s last head of state to openly voice admiration for former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syrian President Bashar Assad. In 2004 he was awarded the Muamar Gaddafi International Human Rights Prize, joining such luminaries as Louis Farrakhan, Fidel Castro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
After Chavez, the award went to Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kirchner considers Chavez a close friend and ally, since Argentina has been one of the beneficiaries of Chavez’s waste of Venezuelan’s assets.
When Kirchner asks Obama this week in Cannes to help refinance Argentina’s $7 billion debt, and to support her government in front of the ICSID (the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes), she may well offer not only a tougher stance on Iran, but also a partial detachment from Chavez.
The author is the author of Judeophobia and To Kill Without a Trace (in Spanish) about Iranian penetration in Latin America.