Past Excesses, Current Weaknesses Haunt Argentina, B’nai B’rith Says

Although disappearances of Jews and others have stopped, and terrorism of the right and left has been largely curtailed, Argentina is haunted by both its past excesses and its present weaknesses, the International Council of B’nai B’rith (ICBB) was told today.

Warren Eisenberg, director of the Council, said in a report released here during the annual meeting of the ICBB that the current military government of Gen. Roberto Viola is seeking a “middle ground” as it struggles for survival.

Eisenberg visited Argentina and several other South American countries last spring, meeting with B’nai B’rith and other Jewish community leaders, members of the “grass roots,” journalists, human rights activists and government officials.

Eisenberg reported that conditions have substantially improved over the mid-1970s and that there was “a definite mood among many Jews that past excesses must be buried.” They feared that continued rehashing “will undo any chance of strengthening the new government” of President Viola, who, they believed, is their best hope of containing anti-Jewish behavior.

CHIEFLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE ECONOMY

The Jewish community’s chief concern is for an improved economy, Eisenberg reported. “There is incipient fear … that a decline in the economy will result in scapegoating of the Jewish community,” he declared.

Eisenberg stated that unlike Americans, who seek compromise as a means of resolving issues, Argentinians cling to their excessive views, which frequently results in a collision of forces and a search for someone to blame.

Viola is viewed “as a creature of the three-man junta which is beholden to other military who are ultimately controlled by lower ranking forces, including Nazi extremists and other anti-Semites,” Eisenberg reported. Nevertheless, most Argentinians want Viola to succeed, fearing “more repressive measures in the name of quelling opposition or criticism” of the government, he added.

Eisenberg said that Argentine Jews protest anti-Semitic acts. “But their isolation makes it difficult for them to be effective without help from the outside,” he declared. “On the surface, the situation is far quieter than the stormy debate inside the United States suggests. Americans must remember that the U.S. has limited leverage on Argentina, and what they have should be used effectively.” On the other hand, he noted, “ignoring the leverage we have will send the wrong message to Argentina.”

SITUATION OF JEWS IN OTHER COUNTRIES

In other nations he visited — Brazil, Chile and Uruguay — Eisenberg said anti-Semitism, if not dead, is not flagrant. He reported that the basic dilemma for Brazil’s 170,000 Jews “is the degree of discomfort they feel in a society which has, historically not evinced strong signs of anti-Semitism.” Nevertheless, there is “a general atmosphere or uneasiness and disquieting which has grown out of instability in the country’s economy and political structure.”

The major problem facing the 35,000 Jews of Chile is complacency, Eisenberg said. The Jewish community lives comfortably and is “deeply immersed” in all aspects of Chilean life. The result is apathy, and according to the organized Jewish community there are less than 20,000 people who identify themselves as Jews and participate in Jewish communal affairs.

In Uruguay, where the Jewish population is 50,000 (out of a total population of 3 million), the suspension of many traditional liberties by a military dictatorship has brought unease, Eisenberg said. While the country remains “relatively tranquil” and the people — Jews and non-Jews alike — look to a re-democratization, young Jews are making aliya to Israel at a rate that is the highest in the continent.

NEXT STORY