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Behind the Headlines the Plight of Jacobo Timerman

March 23, 1979
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Jacobo Timerman, the renowned Jewish editor and publisher of the Argentine liberal daily “La Opinion.” who has been held in official detention for the past 22 months without formal charges, is in improved health, in strong spirits, and in possession of a stronger belief in democracy than ever before.

This picture emerged from exclusive interviews conducted by the Jewish Telegraphic, Agency this week with Timerman’s son, Hector, now living in Israel, and with Rabbi Marshall Meyer, rector of the Seminaries Rabinico Latino-Americano in Buenos Aires, and one of the three men permitted to visit Timerman during his year of house arrest.

“My father is and always will be a fighter.” said the younger Timerman, who speaks with him weekly by telephone “His ideas always come first; and only then his family and himself. This is what has made him strong.”

“The past two years have mode him more of a Jew, more of a man, and has strengthened his convictions in the necessity of a pluralistic democracy,” Meyer told the JTA during a recent visit to Israel: While the pressures of time and the fact that his family is now in Israel (since the end of last year) “cause him great pain and anxiety,” the 56-year-old publisher feels that the worst of his ordeal is over and prays daily” for his release and imminent immigration to Israel, Meyer said.


Prayers, however, have until now been insufficient to secure his release, as have pleas made on his behalf by President Carter, the Vatican, Alexander Solzhenitzyn, and other noted public figures. First taken into custody on April 15, 1977, by “20 men wearing civilian clothing but bearing machineguns, “on suspicion of inculcating leftist ideologies through his newspaper, Timerman was transferred from one prison to another for a year, disappearing from sight altogether two or three times.

Timerman’s son contends the original arrest was made on the Basis of an article primed by the publisher in the beginning of 1977, in which he accused the chief of the armed forces in the province of Buenos Aires, Gen. Carlos Suarez Mason, and the military governor of Buenos Aires, Province, Gen. Iberico Saint Jean, of being anti-Semites and right-wingers.

In the article, the publisher called on Argentine President Jorge Rafael Videla to release the two from their duties in the armed forces. The younger Timerman observed that Suarez Mason was directly responsible for his father’s arrest and that Saint Jean, Suarez Mason’s superior, is “the most dangerous man in Argentina.”


During his imprisonment, Timerman was “viciously and violently tortured,” to a greater degree in the provincial prisons than in the municipal ones, Hector Timerman said. In the provinces, torture cantered on his Jewish background and avowed Zionism. He was grilled as to Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s supposed “take-over” of Argentina, Carter’s reputed subordination to American Jewry, and the proposed location and timing of the next meeting of the “Argentine Elders of Zion.” The younger Timerman noted that “they firmly believed my father was the ambassador of the Elders of Zion in Argentina.”

In October, 1977, the military tribunal declared that they had no charges with which to hold Timerman, and in July of the following year, the Supreme, Court decided that his original arrest in April 1977 was illegal, the First time it has done so in Argentine history.

In the meantime, in April 1978, Timerman was transferred from prison to his home and kept under house arrest, a movement his son attributes to two former members of the military junta, Admiral Emilio Massera and Brig. Osti, “in order to save face in the eyes of the world.” Presently, almost one year later, Timerman still remains in detention.


Stripped of his civil rights, Timerman is allowed to meet only with his brother, Meyer and a general practitioner, write letters (except to his family) and is forced to endure the overbearing presence of eight policemen guarding him throughout the day.

The publisher spends most of his time reading, thinking and listening to music. Blind in one eye from birth, with failing eyesight in his other eye, he has been allowed to see an ophthalmologist only once in two years. His paper is now run by the military and its circulation has dropped by about 75 percent.

The government’s failure to release Timerman for the wedding of one of his three sons in Israel early last January, has increased public suspicion that right-wing elements are preventing Videla from taking action on his own. Noting that Timerman will be released “in due time,” Videla has largely proved unresponsive to the protests and pleas for Timerman’s release that have been brought to his attention.


The Timerman case has in general intensified suspicions and fears that anti-Semitism is on the ascent in Argentina. “There is an insidious type of anti-Semitism that goes unharnessed in the lower echelons of the army, Meyer said.” I am not worried about an official program of anti-Semitism, which does not exist. What concerns me is the lack of force of people in the higher echelons to stop anti-Semitic activities in the lower.”

Representatives of the 350,000-member Jewish community in Argentina, South America’s largest, have meanwhile been told by government officials to keep quiet about the case so as to secure his release, according to Meyer.

Timerman’s son contends that the lack of reaction on the part of Argentine Jewry constitutes one of the biggest disappointments for his father, and that even today “he is more afraid for the Jews in Argentina than for himself.” While lauding activities on his behalf on the part of the American Jewish Committee, the American and Israeli governments and others, “he is very bitter about the fact that Argentine Jewry has done nothing. In his eyes, the only solution for the Jews is democracy. He has worked all his life for Argentine Jewry, and he feels now they have failed him.”

Hector Timerman stressed several times during the interview that neither as a journalist nor as a businessman nor as a Jew was his father guilty of any wrongdoing.

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