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Behind the Headlines Resurgent Anti-semitism in Argentina

An example of what concerted action may achieve was the retraction by Norma Kennedy, a Peronist leader, of a statement threatening to take steps against the “unscrupulous” businessmen of “Libertad Street” and the “Once” neighborhood–where many Jewish-owned stores and a major synagogue are located–for allegedly increasing prices, illegally stocking consumer products, and sabotaging the people.

After the DAIA (Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas), protested these insinuations, Mrs. Kennedy met with DAIA president, Dr. Nehemias Resnizky, and issued a declaration with him denying she had the Jewish community in mind and attributing the matter to a “series of mistakes and misunderstandings.”

JEWS CAUGHT IN ECONOMIC CRUNCH

Rather than causing the current economic crunch, as their enemies would have it, Jews are caught in it together with their fellow non-Jewish Argentines. Business is at a virtual standstill. No one buys–except tourists–or sells. Everyone waits to see what cost increases and shifts in economic policy the morrow will bring. Galloping inflation is the order of the day with prices often doubling overnight and goods disappearing off supermarket shelves as housewives hoard everything from sugar to toilet paper in fear of shortages and shrinking purchasing power.

Strikes of all kinds are rampant and in June an attempt by the regime to limit wage increases promised to the powerful General Labor Confederation (CGT) in the hope of reining inflation, brought about a two-day general strike that paralyzed the country, causing one wit to remark that even the dead will have to dig their own graves.

The plethora of political jokes with which Argentines try to alleviate their multiple headaches (Yiddish-speaking audiences had an additional chance to laugh for a while at the performances of “Stempenyu,” a musical comedy by Sholem Aleichem being staged at the Buenos Aires kehila building) does not hide the gravity of what is happening.

Jewish institutions also stand to suffer. Enrollment in Jewish schools is down as budget-conscious parents look for ways to cut expenses. Jewish teachers, like all salaried employes, are hard put to make ends meet.

POWER VACUUM FEARED

Argentina is apparently waiting for a strong hand to step in and fill the vacuum left when General Peron died and the divisions in his Justicialist movement broke open. Jews, too, fear the vacuum. Peron was a powerful figure who could maintain internal order by listening to each group as the occasion demanded.

A pamphlet issued by the DAIA under the title “Peron el Pueblo Judio” (Peron and the Jewish People) contains quotes from a number of the General’s speeches in which he expressed his friendship for Israel and admiration for the Argentine Jewish community. Shortly after he reassumed the Presidency in 1973, ending 18 years of exile in Spain, Peron had a meeting with a delegation of Jewish leaders in which he assured them that his movement was opposed to any form of discrimination and that his doors were open should any problem arise that might concern the community.

At the same meeting, in answer to a point raised by the Jewish representatives, Peron said it was absurd to apply the term “Sinarquia” to Argentina’s Jews as had been happening in a number of publications. Yet this term was used by the General himself at various points in his career to describe an alleged international power clique seeking world domination directed from United Nations headquarters in which are included Communism, Capitalism, the Catholic Church, the Freemasons–and Judaism (or Zionism).

DIVERSE CURRENTS WITHIN PERONISM

The diverse currents within Peronism were further demonstrated when the Argentine leader chose a Jewish Minister of Economy, Jose Ber Gelbart, who resigned after a power struggle with Jose Lopez Rega, former private secretary to Peron and Minister of Social Welfare. Lopez Rega courted Libya and the Third World and was accused in some quarters of giving aid and comfort to the ultra-rightist, anti-Semitic “Triple A” –Argentine Anti-Imperialist Alliance.

Upon Peron’s death the mantle of office fell on his second wife, Maria Estela Martinez, better known as Isabel. Since becoming President, Mrs. Peron has also met Jewish representatives and once again denounced “any attempts to divide the Argentine family”; still, with the General gone, there is worry in Jewish circles how elements unfriendly to the community might take advantage of the current unrest.

There is an episode in “Los Gauchos Judios”–one of the few reflecting anti-Semitism–in which a Jewish settler, Rabbi Abraham, is falsely accused of stealing a Gentile neighbor’s horse, No amount of valid evidence or argumentation can convince the local authorities that the settler is innocent, since as someone puts it, “those Jews are thieves.”

Comments Gerchunoff; “Rabbi Abraham has witnessed–perhaps without foreseeing the consequences–the beginning of a new period, which transplants to Argentine soil the eternal opinion about the Jews….I want to believe, however, that it doesn’t always have to be this way….”

At Argentina’s hour of trial. Gerchunoff’s words seem to have a particularly timely ring and the re-creation of “Los Gauchos Judios” at this juncture of Argentine history, is, perhaps, of more than passing significance.

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