Rabbi elected to Buenos Aires parliament

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Argentine Rabbi Sergio Bergman handily won a seat on the Buenos Aires municipal legislature.

Bergman led with 45 percent of the vote, more than tripling second-place finisher Juan Cabandie of the Victory Front Party,  who had 14 percent.

Bergman, the senior rabbi of the traditional Congregacion Israelita Argentina, is the founder of Active Memory, a group that demonstrated every Monday for a decade in front of Argentina’s Supreme Court seeking justice for the victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri had tapped Bergman to lead his PRO Party’s list for the municipal legislature. As the top candidate on the center-right party’s slate, the rabbi obtained nearly half the votes in a race featuring 10 candidates.

A Buenos Aires court had ruled June 16 that Bergman, a prominent spiritual leader in the capital city, could not use the title “rabbi” on the election ballot.

Bergman told JTA before the election that he became involved in politics because Argentine society is “in a deep crisis of values,” adding that “I believe that Torah can also be taught in the legislature.”

He dismissed the notion that his candidacy could put the Jewish community at risk.

“If the society knows us better, the level of anti-Semitism will become lower,” Bergman said. “I have many non-Jewish voters. The only doubt today is if Jews will vote for me."

Macri garnered 47 percent of the vote for mayor, but did not reach the threshold of 50 percent required to avoid a runoff election July 31 with Daniel Filmus, a former education minister. Filmus, who is Jewish, was chosen by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to run as the candidate of her center-left Victory Front Party. Filmus garnered 27.8 percent of the vote. 

Another Jewish mayoral candidate was the Progressive Front Party’s Jorge Telerman, who had been the city’s vice mayor before taking over as mayor for nearly two years following the 2006 impeachment and removal from office of Anibal Ibarra, as well as his Jewish vice mayoral running mate Diego Kravetz.  

Amid the proliferation of prominent Jewish candidates, the ballot also featured a neo-Nazi, Alejandro Biondini of the Social Alternative Party. Biondini, who has openly espoused anti-Semitism and whose previous party, New Triumph, was banned by Argentina’s Supreme Court in 2009, was shunned by the voters and had just 0.19 percent of the vote.

Estimates of Argentina’s Jewish population range from 180,000 to 280,000. It is Latin America’s largest Jewish community, but it has suffered the sting of anti-Semitism during its history.

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