New Argentine President Pledges ‘excellent Relations’ with Jews

Argentina’s new president assured the leadership of the World Jewish Congress he would have “excellent relations with the Jewish community,” the organization reported Monday.

Carlos Saul Menem, the Peronist leader elected May 14 and installed as president earlier this month, met Monday morning in Buenos Aires with a delegation headed by Edgar Bronfman, the WJC president.

The WJC leaders flew to the Argentine capital Saturday night to meet with Menem and other Latin American leaders, including the newly elected president of Venezuela, Carlos Andres Perez, and representatives of the Jewish communities of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.

WJC leaders were particularly interested in meeting with Menem because of the Peronist party’s legacy of anti-Semitism.

But Argentine Jews of all political stripes are now optimistic that the new president will have good relations with the Jewish community, Elan Steinberg, WJC’s executive director, said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo.

Menem said he was “determined to have excellent relations with the Jewish community, both within Argentina and abroad, as well as with Israel,” Steinberg reported.

He said the president greeted Bronfman with “Shalom” and spoke of the “commonality of the Jewish and Syrian refugee experience.”

Menem is the son of Syrian refugees who settled in Argentina. Born a Moslem, he converted to Catholicism, in compliance with an Argentine law requiring the president to be a Catholic.

ECONOMIC WOES HAVE SPURRED ALIYAH

Bronfman was accompanied by Steinberg and Israel Singer, the WJC secretary-general, as well as the president of the Argentine Jewish community, David Goldberg, in the 90-minute meeting with Menem at the Pink House, the presidential palace.

Their meeting with the president was followed by a news conference with the international media. Moreover, Menem had announced twice on prime-time television that he would be meeting with the WJC leaders.

Steinberg called the Argentine leader a “highly charismatic figure who has psychologically energized the country to face the challenges.”

Argentina is faced with a devastating rate of inflation that is rising geometrically by 200 percent per month. As a result, aliyah is up considerably, although figures previously reported were exaggerated, Steinberg said.

The matter was discussed at a private meeting with Israeli Ambassador Efraim Tari and in a meeting with the DAIA, Argentine Jewry’s representative body.

This past year, Tari said, 4,000 Argentine Jews moved to Israel, compared to 1,200 last year.

The WJC did not discuss Menem’s statement last week that he seeks reconciliation with the military. There were three military rebellions last year that stopped just short of coup.

The Jewish community fared very badly during the “Dirty War” of the late 1970s, when a military junta ruled and abducted people variously suspected of leftist leanings. Many Jews, particularly young people, were never seen again.

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