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Argentine Jews in Disarray After Election, Bank Failure

January 14, 1999
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Far from forging a sense of unity, elections for the leadership of Argentina’s Jewish umbrella organization have left the community in disarray.

The rift plaguing the 250,000-member Jewish community was exacerbated by a recent bank failure that has seriously jeopardized communal assets.

Lawyer Rogelio Cichowolsky was elected this week as the new president of the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations, or DAIA.

But a sizable bloc of communal organizations who are represented under the group’s umbrella contested the election and have effectively seceded from DAIA.

Cichowolsky served as secretary-general of DAIA for the past six years, when Ruben Beraja was president.

Beraja resigned the post late last year, after his Banco Mayo collapsed and was placed under the supervision of the country’s central bank.

The bank’s collapse triggered a deep financial crisis in the Argentine Jewish community. Banco Mayo had handled the deposits and assets for most of the country’s major Jewish organizations.

Many Jewish schools, mutual aid associations and cemeteries had come to rely on Banco Mayo for loans and credit.

In past years, Beraja had been harshly criticized for his handling of relations with the Argentine government.

Critics said his close personal ties with President Carlos Menem were behind his reluctance to criticize the slow pace of the investigations into the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the March 1994 bombing of the AMIA community center.

The government has failed to find those responsible for the bombings, which killed 115 people and left hundreds wounded.

Widely regarded as Beraja’s right-hand man, Cichowolsky inherited some of that criticism this week.

After the vote was taken, several major organizations said they would not take their seats on DAIA’s executive council.

The Hebraica Association, DAIA’s largest constituent group, called Cichowolsky’s election “irregular” and issued a statement supporting its own president, Gilbert Lewi, who quit the executive council to protest the vote.

Cichowolsky was elected under a system in which all organizations, regardless of size, have one vote.

As a result, Hebraica’s 50,000 members have the same weight as a 50-member group in the provinces.

Reacting to the growing rift, Cichowolsky suggested that the community proceed with “caution.”

Charging that “some sectors in our community are using an unheard-of level of verbal violence,” he said the current climate “puts at risk the social contract that made possible the institutions that are the pride of Argentine Jewry.”

As a conciliatory gesture, Cichowolsky called for a meeting with the relatives of the two bombings’ victims, including the members of the group Memoria Activa, who were among the biggest critics of Beraja’s presidency.

“I trust we’ll overcome the present difficulties,” he said.

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