Argentine Minister Explains to Jews His Anti-semitic Past

Argentina’s justice minister has reached out to the Jewish community for understanding in the wake of revelations that he belonged in his youth to a violent anti-Semitic group.

The local magazine Noticias reported last month that Rodolfo Barra belonged in the 1960s to the student branch of the nationalist group Tacuara, which was responsible for hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks, including the desecration of cemeteries and synagogues as well as the murder of a Jewish lawyer.

In a later story, Noticias reported that the minister’s far-right activities went beyond his teen years.

According to the magazine, when Barra was 17 years old, he graduated to the “Patria Grande” group.

And in 1974, when he was 27, he worked at the University of Buenos Aires for Argentina’s most notorious fascist, Alberto Ottalagano. Argentine leader Gen. Juan Peron made Ottalagano dean and president of the school.

Ottalagano wrote a book titled “Yes, I Am A Fascist, So What?”

Meeting with members of the executive council of the Argentine Jewish political organization DAIA on July 1, Barra explained that he belonged to anti-Semitic groups “because he thought all Jews were leftists, and he was against communism,” sources said.

Barra also apparently told DAIA members that he “never was anti-Semitic or a Nazi.”

The next day, Barra delivered a three-page letter to DAIA stating his ideas about discrimination.

The letter quoted papal encyclicals against anti-Semitism, sources said.

The council accepted Barra’s explanations about his past activities and on July 4 issued a cautious letter signed by Ruben Beraja, DAIA president, and Jose Kestelman, DAIA secretary general.

“The allegations against Minister Barra deeply shocked the community we represent,” the letter stated.

In the letter, DAIA did not comment on the minister’s excuse, but took note of his “repudiation of Nazism and anti-Semitism.”

It also said, “DAIA sees with grave concern that people who held such ideas could be named to high-ranking posts by a democratic government” and that “the minister’s statements repudiating right-wing ideologies constitute a compromise.”

Some DAIA members tried to defend Barra’s recent record, which includes facilitating the extradition of former Nazi Erich Priebke to Italy, where he is now on trial.

But others in the Jewish community have criticized him harshly.

Gilbert Levy, president of the Argentine Hebraic Society, said, “The post of justice minister calls for a clean record. Barra should quickly resign his post.”

Reform Rabbi Daniel Goldman also called for the minister’s resignation, saying that “I do not believe his excuses. I know some of his high-school colleagues, and they tell me Barra was a rabid anti-Semite.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center representative in Argentina, Sergio Widder, said in an interview that the center would publish an open letter to President Carlos Menem “expressing deep concern about the alleged Nazi sympathies of Minister Barra.”

The center also wants Menem to “promptly open an investigation on Minister Barra’s political activities, activities he kept a secret until they were exposed to the light by journalists.”

As justice minister, Barra has been directly responsible for the investigation of the unsolved bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and of the Jewish community headquarters in 1994.

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