Argentine police to probe own alleged anti-Semitism

BUENOS AIRES — The Argentine government has announced the creation of a special police unit that will investigate charges of police involvement in anti-Semitic attacks.

The recent move came after harsh criticism by the Argentine Jewish community, which has alleged police complicity in recent attacks on Jewish targets.

Ruben Beraja, president of the Argentine Jewish umbrella organization DAIA, said community leaders suspect that police were involved in October's desecration of a Jewish cemetery near Buenos Aires and in November's failed bombing of the Jewish Ezrah Hospital in the capital.

The creation of the special police unit was announced by Buenos Aires Province Security Secretary Eduardo De Lazzari after he met with top police officials. Beraja and Oscar Hansman, president of the Argentine Mutual Aid Association, or AMIA, another Jewish group, also attended.

Creation of the force "shows that there is no animosity against the Jewish community among policemen," De Lazzari said.

"We shall enforce the anti-discrimination laws and will show that the Buenos Aires police force is against any form of bigotry."

Beraja welcomed the decision to create the investigative unit but said police officials are only "just admitting that there is a problem."

In October, 100 graves were desecrated in the Jewish cemetery of La Tablada.

Scores of headstones were smashed or spray-painted with swastikas, and the vandals painted a large sign reading "The Holocaust is a Jewish Hoax" on a wall.

Days after the incident, two men were arrested while painting anti-Semitic graffiti just outside the cemetery.

The arrests were hailed at first as proof of the government's resolve to curb racist acts, but suspicions were soon raised.

In a recent front-page story, the local newspaper Pagina 12 said that "the two arrested were police informers paid to take the rap."

According to the newspaper, the arrests "were a set-up by two policemen eager to earn a promotion."

The two policemen were later charged with perjury and arrested, Pagina 12 reported.

An irate Beraja said the Jewish community found out about the incident "only through the media."

The government "kept it a secret," he said. "This incident breaks the trust we should have in our government. It is sickening to find out that policemen paid people to paint swastikas on a wall."

Beraja accused Argentine Interior Minister Carlos Corach, who is Jewish, "of not informing us."

According to Jewish officials, an anti-Semitic group that includes federal police officials was responsible for placing a bomb at the doorstep of the hospital in November.

The bomb did not explode and was removed by a police bomb squad.

Tensions between Argentine Jews and government officials have flared since two fatal bombings in the past several years of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the AMIA headquarters.

Both cases remain unresolved, and local Jews suspect either police involvement or lack of efforts to find the culprits.