Op-Ed: Obtaining justice for the AMIA victims

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — Although 15 years have passed, no one has ever been jailed for the 85 people murdered and hundreds injured when the AMIA Jewish community center was bombed in this city in 1994.

Nobody is paying the price for having murdered humble teachers, social workers and secretaries who formed the backbone of the team at the century-old Jewish institution that provided far-reaching support, educational and religious services.

We must learn several lessons for the future.

First: Never forget. The blessed memory of the victims, and Argentina’s dignity, demands that Argentinean society not give up until justice has been served. The relentless work carried out with the public’s support by all of the family members and the community’s central institutions — AMIA and the DAIA political umbrella group — has been exceptional, selfless and extremely courageous. They have toiled so that the cause be given full attention, that innumerable police and legal mistakes be brought to light, and that there finally might be some clues.

Samuel Pisar, a survivor of the Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, tells of how when the doors to Auschwitz’s gas chambers would shut, those trapped inside had only three minutes to live. What would they do with those final three minutes? Many scratched the words “Never forget” into the walls with their fingernails. If those buried under the rubble of the AMIA building had had the time to leave a message, surely they would have called for society not to rest until justice is delivered.

Second: Face the new forms of anti-Semitism. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested that the Holocaust never took place, which proposes that somehow the million-and-a-half Jewish children who were murdered, the 6 million Jews exterminated, somehow never lived. With the same cold blood, Ahmadinejad has called the young Iranians who denounced the massive electoral fraud and took to the streets “a group of lowly infiltrators.” In that same fascist tone he decided that Neda, the young woman assassinated by his paramilitary forces, had been killed by foreign journalists so they would have an anti-regime news story to report.

In spite of all of this Ahmadinejad, the new global face of anti-Semitism who has called for the destruction of the State of Israel, is admired in certain sectors of Latin American society who call themselves progressive.

Who wins when a friendship with a fascist despot is cultivated? The murder of Neda in the streets of Tehran and the systematic denial of the Holocaust share roots in this new fascism, which the Argentinean judges also tie to the AMIA massacre.

Third: The increase in racism and xenophobia demands a response.

In a world of growing unemployment and social tension, far-right political forces have found a climate conducive to anti-Semitism and racism, and have exploited this in order to gain ground.

In the last European Parliament elections, the party of the late Austrian neo-Nazi leader Joerg Haider won 13 percent of the votes in Austria, double what it won in 2004. In Britain, the neo-fascist BNP won two seats for the first time ever. In Hungary, the party that idolizes the Hungarian regime that cooperated with the Nazis, Jobbik, garnered three seats.

It is clear that in this climate, Jews and minorities are seen as scapegoats and blamed for economic and social problems. A survey of minorities in the 27 countries of the European Union found that 94 percent of those interviewed had been the object of discrimination. Attacks are raining down on Gypsies in Italy and Hungary. In another recent survey, a third of Europeans said they held Jews responsible for the global economic crisis, and many more believed that Jews have control over global finance.

What can we do now? What is the best way to remember those who were sacrificed 15 years ago in the AMIA bombing?

We must honor the victims by vigorously and incessantly demanding that those responsible for the AMIA massacre — investigators say it was the work of Iran and Hezbollah — be tried in court and brought to justice.

In his final letter from within the burning ghetto, Mordechai Anilewicz, the 23-year-old commander of the Warsaw Ghetto’s historical rebellion, wrote to the Jewish people and the world, telling them that their fight was in “defense of our and your dignity.”

Today, defending the honor of the dignified Argentinean people, and of a world in which the demons of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia have been let loose once again, amounts to telling the 85 souls whose names are inscribed in the walls of the reconstructed AMIA building — which again is working tirelessly for good causes — that we will not give up until there is justice for them.

(Bernardo Kliksberg is a special adviser to the United Nations and winner of the 2009 Civil Merit decoration from the Spanish government. He also is a winner of the AMIA Award.)

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