New York (Sep. 23)
One of the obscenities in American Jewish life is the spectacle of Jewish representatives flying down to Argentina to get the latest progress reports about the Jewish situation there from the government and the Jewish community leaders.
From the almost glowing reports they deliver upon their return to this country about the Jewish condition in Argentina, it would appear that these representatives go there less for the sake of assessing the real condition than to disprove the contention of Jacobo Timerman that Argentina is rife with anti-Semitism and manifestations of neo-Nazism. They return to proclaim that there is no Holocaust, that the regime is not a clone of Nazi Germany and that Jews are relatively safe and secure.
These representatives completely ignore or deny the massive violations not only of human rights generally in Argentina, but the violations of Jewish rights in particular. They return silent about the estimated 2,000 Jews who are among the 20,000 disappeared ones and about the countless numbers of Jews who are in prison and who undergo torture at the hands of the jailers and the security forces.
ORGANIZING A WITCH-HUNT
Another obscenity is that of Jewish and non-Jewish literary hacks staking out their claims as rabid witch-hunters and equal opportunity vilifiers of Timerman and of those who support his contentions about the rampant anti-Semitism in Argentina and the existence of Nazi-like prison camps such as La Perla.
This cabal, which includes Irving Kristol, Benno Weiser Varon, Mark Falcoff and William Buckley not only vilify Timerman by smearing him as a darling of the American left and as a former supporter of leftwing guerillas in Argentina, but also try to deny the validity of his suffering as a Jew while he was in jail which he described so poignantly in his book, “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.”
The diatribes these hacks direct against the former publisher and editor of La Opinion are not so much for his criticism of the Argentine Jewish leaders for being silent about the tragedy which has befallen the Jews in their country, but more for his attacks against the Argentine junta and the Reagan Administration which seeks to bolster it as an ally.
To the extent that the American Jewish representatives and their poison-pen sidekicks acknowledge that there is anti-Semitism in Argentina they claim it is negligible and on an unofficial level, and take refuge in the argument that it has occured before and that it went away, and if it is recurring again, this too shall pass. But at what cost in the meanwhile to the thousands of Jews caught in the vise of terror?
Who are these Jewish representatives and their sidekicks? For the most part they are the same ones who are silent about the plight of Ethiopian Jews; who insist that anti-Semitism in America is declining and is nothing worse than a 24-hour virus; who claim that the United States is immune to the historical laws governing the rise and institutionalization of Nazism; who kept silent when the young, brilliant Brazilian Jewish journalist, Vladimir Herzog, was hounded, jailed and then found dead in his cell in Sao Paulo in 1975; and who support every reactionary regime in the world so long as they can characterize them as “authoritarian” and not “totalitarian.”
These individuals and their ilk comprise a “neo-Judenrat.” But this Judenrat is far more despicable than the Judenrate (Jewish councils) that were imposed upon the Jews by the Nazis in the European countries they occupied. Not all those Judenrate were the same; some actively collaborated with the Nazis, some refused to do their biddings, some looked the other way when Nazis murdered Jews, others helped Jews organize resistance against the Nazi hordes.
But all the European Judenrate operated under conditions of powerlessness; they had no choice; they were under the gun; and even the most benign were limited in what they could do to help save Jews. The neo-Judenrat, however, does not operate under conditions of powerlessness but under conditions where there are options. They can speak out and tell the truth about the plight of Argentine Jewry or they can keep silent or they can distort the reality which Timerman has described.
The neo-Judenrat has opted to create conditions of powerlessness for both the Jews of Argentina and the Jews of America by disseminating disinformation about the situation in Argentina. This Judenrat propounds the theme that Argentina is not a “gulag” for those Jews and non-Jews who are arrested, tortured or who disappear — merely a slight deviation from the American form of democracy.
Thus, the Argentine regime is provided with a veneer of respectability and moral and legal authority in the court of American public opinion. American Jews are thereby dissuaded from trying to help Argentine Jewry and Argentine Jewry is left isolated from American Jewry. Worst of all, the voices of those Jews who are victims of the regime’s repressions are muffled by the campaign of disinformation.
OTHER SOURCES AVAILABLE
Timerman’s account, the neo-Judenrat claims, is clouded by subjectivity, by his leftist political views, by his obsessive hatred of the Argentine government. His assessment of what is happening to Jewish and non-Jewish dissidents in Argentina is, therefore, according to this neo-Judenrat, suspect. But even if this were so — and it isn’t — why the need for a witch-hunt, a smear campaign against Timerman?
But let’s forget Timerman. Let’s pretend he doesn’t exist. Is the reality of pre-dawn kidnappings, indiscriminate jailings, torture and the disappearance of thousands changed in any way? Is the reality that Jews who are arrested are treated more brutally than non-Jews changed in any way? After all, the views, opinions and contentions of one person can neither create nor negate reality.
If one believes that the reality in Argentina is different that that described by Timerman, there are other sources to check; the mothers of the disappeared ones who gather weekly at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires seeking to learn the whereabouts of their loved ones; Amnesty International; the Council on Hemispheric Affairs; the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an agency of the Organization of American States.
BEING JEWISH IS TANTAMOUNT TO BEING GUILTY
If these sources are also suspect, perhaps another source would be considered more objective and reliable; James Neilson, the editor of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald, Writing in the August-September issue of Hadassah Magazine, he states:
“Jews, it was generally believed … received far harsher treatment from the military than Christians or
atheists did if captured by the security forces. Such reports as have leaked out from the military’s half-hidden prison system make it plain that, as for as the army is concerned, being Jewish is tantamount to an admission of political guilt. Some people who were held for a time and then released have testified that they saw portraits of Hitler on the walls of the torture chambers and that one of the first questions they had to answer was, ‘are you a Jew’?”
According to the neo-Judenrat, the security forces carry out extra-legal activities which are not authorized by the government. But if this is so, why aren’t any of them arrested? Why don’t the legal authorities end this reign of terror? But forces do not operate in a vacuum. They operate within the framework of a political system.
THE ROOT OF THE MATTER
What motivates the neo-Judenrat to deny the existence of anti-Semitism in Argentina? What motivates them to deny manifestations of neo-Nazism in that country? How do they rationalize their orchestrated attacks on Timerman? In addition to the fact that they accept the Reagan Administration’s perception of Argentina as merely an “authoritarian” regime which is an invaluable ally in the fight against “totalitarian” regimes, there is a more fundamental reason.
The root of the matter is this: there is an attempt to deny the Jewish nature of the plight of those Jews who are victimized by the Argentine regime by denying that they are Jews or victimized as Jews. The neo-Judenrat identifies these victims in terms used by the regime: leftists, radicals, revolutionaries, dissidents and malcontents. They do not define who is a Jew in Argentina according to halacha but according to the government’s charges.
This is truly a tragedy of great magnitude: Jews being denied their Jewish identity by other Jews only because the government has accused them, without due process of law, of being political opponents even though many of them have never even been politically involved. The victimized Argentine Jews suffer a double indignity — they have been read out of the community as Jews at the same time that their tormentors insist on recognizing them as Jews and considering them guilty because they are Jews. Their identity as Jews and their suffering as Jews is erased by the neo-Judenrat — and thus there is no Jewish problem in Argentina.
The tragedy in that country — as in other South American countries — is that aside from those who are known to have been jailed or who have disappeared there may be many more Jews who are in prisons, being tortured or killed without any one abroad knowing about it until it is too late to try to save them. And all this because the neo-Judenrat denies the reality of anti-Semitism and manifestations of Nazism in Argentina.
There may not be a Holocaust in Argentina at this time (and Timerman never said that there is). Perhaps there is not even a pogrom, if one accepts the verdict of the neo-Judenrat. But if world Jewry waits until there is another Kishinev or gas chambers or crematoria, it will be too late. Some 2,000 Jews have disappeared in Argentina, and the neo-Judenrat is silent about this, and so is world Jewry generally. What would world Jewry say and do if 2,000 Jews disappeared in the Soviet Union or in some Arab country? The answer is obvious. But there is only equivocation and prevarication about the plight of Argentine Jewry.
If Timerman does nothing else for the rest of his life, he has already left an indelible imprint on history by forcing world opinion to deal with the issue of the Jews in Argentina. Can the organized Jewish community in America do less?