NEW YORK (Jul. 7)
The American Jewish Committee announced today that it has closed its Buenos Aires office after 29 years because of threats against its representative and his family. AJCommittee president Richard Maass told a press conference that the organization will not reopen the office which serves all of South America until it receives physical evidence, not just verbal assurances, that those who make anti-Semitic and anti-American threats will be found and punished.
Jacobo Kovadloff, director of the AJCommittee’s Buenos Aires office; his wife Sonia; their daughter, Georgina, 21; and son, Ezechiel, 15, are now in New York from where Kovadloff will temporarily run the organization’s South American affairs.
Kovadloff did not attend the press conference and Maass explained that this was because he was still “shook up” after the threats and because as a fifth generation Argentinian he did not want to be in the position of attacking his country from abroad.
Maass said that the United States government has been asked to lodge a protest with the Argentine government against the threats to the AJCommittee and American property in Buenos Aires. He noted that the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires and Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro has been very helpful to Kovadloff and his family.
ELEMENTS IN ARGENTINE GOVERNMENT CHARGED
Maass charged that elements in the Argentine government were behind the threats to Kovadloff. David Geller, the AJCommittee’s Latin American specialist, said that Kovadloff believes that the AJCommittee was singled out for attack to embarrass President Jorge Rafael Videla, who is considered a moderate, by right-wing elements in the government. As evidence of this, Maass pointed out that one of the notes threatening Kovadloff ended by saying “We do not want offices of Yankees and Jews.”
The AJCommittee president said that while Videla and other officials of his government have condemned discrimination and racism they have not mentioned anti-Semitism by name. He said the AJCommittee believes the government can find the persons who the threatened the Kovadloffs and should punish them as an example to others that such threats will not be tolerated in Argentina any longer.
In addition, Maass said the government should completely ban the publication of anti-Semitic organs like the magazine Cabildo instead of only confiscating one issue as it did recently and should punish the generals and other government officials who attended a recent anniversary banquet for the magazine.
WARNINGS BEGAN LAST MONTH
The threats against Kovadloff started when an unidentified telephone caller told Mrs. Kovadloff June 20: “Tell your husband that if he does not leave the country, the same thing that happened to Timerman will happen to him.” (Jacobo Timerman, a prominent Jewish journalist and editor of the newspaper La Opinion is being held in jail, linked to David Graiver, a Jewish banker who died in a plane crash last year, in an investigation of illegal economic activities.)
Kovadloff himself received a note, hand delivered to the doorman at his home June 21, saying: “Traitor. You played a double game too much. Go away before it will be too late. We do not want Yankee or Jewish offices.” The same afternoon the AJCommittee office was called, telling Kovadloff and his family to leave the country. A similar call was made to the Kovadloff home later in the day.
Kovadloff then left for Brazil June 22 where, according to Maass, he thought he would stay temporarily. But as soon as he left his wife and children began receiving threats. On June 28 Mrs. Kovadloff and the two children left for the airport in a U.S. Embassy car accompanied by two American diplomatic officials. The family’s belongings were thoroughly searched at the airport and a plainclothes official crushed the lens of the glasses belonging to Kovadloff’s son. The plane was delayed for a half hour due to the search.
Maass said that the AJCommittee has operated in Argentina as a service organization to the Argentine Jewish community and to improve relations between Argentina and the United States. He said it has never taken a political stand in the country. The South American office was located in Buenos Aires because about half of the continent’s Jews are in Argentina.