Argentine Jews Can’t Turn the Page on Anti-zionist Panel at Book Fair

A day after a panel discussion on the 1994 bombing of Argentina’s central Jewish institution took on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tones, a group representing victims’ relatives questioned why such an event should be held at a prominent book fair.

“In almost 13 years since the murder of our relatives, the Book Fair organizers have never invited anyone directly related with the AMIA judiciary case to express their opinion,” Memoria Activa wrote in an April 30 release. “Thus it seems astonishing and baffling to us the chance given to people that are not part of the judiciary case and whose public attitudes hurt the memory of the victims.”

The Islamic Argentine Organization hosted Sunday’s panel discussion at the 33rd Buenos Aires International Book Fair. The group has its headquarters at the At-Tawhid mosque, which is linked closely to the Iranian Embassy.

The Iranian government is suspected of complicity in the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center, which killed 85 and injured some 300. It came two years after a 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

After years of little movement in the AMIA case, Argentina last fall issued warrants for the arrest of eight Iranians and a Lebanese. In March, Interpol sought the arrest of five Iranians and a Lebanese.

Featured on Sunday’s panel were Luis D’Elia, a social-movement leader who has sought to implicate the “Jewish right wing” in the attack; and politician Mario Cafiero, son of Peronist leader Antonio Cafiero. They were introduced by Sheik Mohsen Ali of a mosque known as the House for the Diffusion of Islam.

D’Elia and Cafiero visited Iran in March at the invitation of the Iranian government, showing support for President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in the AMIA case. They were joined on the trip by Luis Farinello, a priest who was scheduled to appear on the book-festival panel but did not appear.

The discussion supposedly intended “to spread an open debate and bring light to the AMIA Jewish central institution attack,” but speakers referred only briefly to the legal case before criticizing Israeli and American foreign policy.

After Ali’s introduction stressing how much Islam values the pursuit of justice, D’Elia noted the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Israeli.

“Some people wonder if the Israeli embassy and AMIA bombings weren’t committed by people of the same origin,” he said. “Some of us believe it might have been.”

Cafiero called the indictments in Argentina and the Interpol warrants “colonial” and “unsubstantiated.”

Rabbi Daniel Goldman of the city’s Bet El synagogue left the auditorium to show his disapproval of the panel. One man in the crowd of about 500 stood and shouted to the panelists, referring to Iran, “How can you support a country that denies the Holocaust? I lost all my family there!”

Shouts and insults were exchanged for several minutes. Someone shouted, “The Mossad go out, Argentines stay!”

Some cheered and applauded, while others showed anger and frustration. Audience members began arguing, forcing an early end to the discussion.

“Unfortunately, young Zionists came to ruin this panel,” Ali told JTA. “This was not a spontaneous reaction.”

He went on to explain that Zionists are those “expansionist looters who disobeyed the United Nations.”

Most of the Jews in the crowd were university students.

Local Jews “were too ingenuous to think there was going to be a debate here,” Emiliano Joab told JTA. “They differentiated the Jews from the Argentines.”

“I do not know how I could stand being here,” said Hernan Aisenberg, 22. “I wanted to ask them how is it that Iran held a seminar to review whether the Holocaust happened. My grandmother Fanny, who had Polish roots, lost all her loved ones in a concentration camp.”

Asked about the anti-Zionist nature of the panel, Horacio Garcia, president of the Book Foundation that sponsors the fair, told JTA, “I’m sorry, but there are more than 1,500 expositors in the event. It’s a place of discussion. If I had to answer for every panel …”

Two days before the event, media and book-fair organizers expressed concern about this type of discussion at the fair.

“We have received complaints and support about this panel,” Garcia said at the time. “We cannot censure freedom of expression.”

Aldo Donzis, president of the DAIA Jewish umbrella association, saw it differently.

“To use such a space so emblematic of the local culture as the book fair is serious,” Donzis said. “D’Elia seems not to care about breaking the social links that Argentines are making such an effort to build. With his attitude, D’Elia turns his back on justice.”

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