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Argentine Offer of Reparations Divides Local Jewish Community

The Argentine government will pay $12 million to the Argentine Jewish community as reparations for the July 18, 1994, bombing of the Argentine Mutual Aid Association.

News of the payment divided the Argentine Jewish community, with some wanting to reject the government’s offer.

“That’s blood money,” said a Jewish community official who wished to remain anonymous.

“We cannot take money from a government we criticize for the handling of the investigation of the bombing,” the official said. “Taking even a dime would soil us. Also, it could be perceived as a sort of reverse discrimination: People are hurting all over, and Jews get a special treatment.”

The bombing of the association, also known as AMIA, claimed 86 lives and left more than 300 wounded.

Argentine President Carlos Menen signed a decree last week ordering that the money be paid to AMIA in 12 monthly installments, starting in January 1997.

According to the decree, $11 million is being given “toward the reconstruction of the AMIA building” and $1 million “for the creation of a museum of the Holocaust.”

Last year, the Argentine government donated a building in downtown Buenos Aires for the creation of a Holocaust museum.

The Jewish community here is still reeling from the bombing, which decimated the central Jewish community building.

Jewish officials here and abroad have been critical of the Argentine government’s inability to solve the case. Several suspects have been arrested and later released for lack of evidence.

Argentina has also come under criticism for a similar inability to find those responsible for the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy here. That blast left 29 dead and some 100 wounded.

While some in the community here want to turn down the government’s offer, others are being more cautious, saying that an outright rejection of the payment would be insulting to the government.

Some in this camp have proposed that the community take the money and donate it to a non-Jewish hospital or charity.

A third group said Argentine Jews should take the money and use it to upgrade security in community sites and schools.

“Many Jews accepted money from the German government as reparations for Nazi persecution,” said an official. “Why not us? We could help those wounded in the attack that need special medical care and help the families of the victims.”

The official pointed out that insurance for Jewish community building is at a premium as a consequence of the bombing.

“That is a material consequence of the bombing that money could repair,” the official said.

Although the decree said the money should be used for the reconstruction of the AMIA building, community sources said the new, $55.5 million building is almost all paid for.

The old building was reportedly insured for $3 million and AMIA was able to raise a further $1.6 million.

The Argentine government began looking into the idea of paying reparations to the Jewish community more than a year ago. The initiative reportedly came from Interior Minister Carlos Vladimiro Corach.

Government sources said negotiations with Jewish community officials “stalled” because the officials “would not say conclusively if they would take the money or not.”

The government decided last week to make the offer public.

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