Argentines cry out over unsolved bombing attacks

BUENOS AIRES — Slamming one Jewish government official as a "traitor," 15,000 angry Argentines last week marked the third anniversary of the bombing of Argentina's Jewish community center.

The outrage from the local Jewish community, directed at the government and Jewish leaders alike, was sparked by the inability of Argentine officials to find those responsible for the bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association, also known as AMIA.

A silent crowd filled the streets Friday of last week near the 600 block of Pasteur Street, where a powerful bomb leveled the AMIA building on July 18, 1994.

During the four-hour ceremony, the crowd repeatedly booed those members of the Argentine government who were present. They also jeered Ruben Beraja, president of the Argentine Jewish umbrella organization DAIA.

A siren went off when the ceremony began at 9:53 a.m., the exact time of the fatal blast. The mournful crowd repeated the names of the 86 victims as they were read from the podium.

But the mood turned sour when the widow of one of the victims, Laura Ginsberg, addressed the crowd and started attacking the government for the lack of results in the investigation.

"The interior minister is still not doing anything," Ginsberg said, looking straight at the head of that ministry, Carlos Corach.

The crowd started booing Corach, who is Jewish, and chanted, "Jewish traitor. Jewish traitor."

"After three years, all Corach has to say is that the government gave money to AMIA to rebuild and is paying pensions to survivors, as if his work was done," Ginsberg said.

Beraja, who spoke after Ginsberg, was repeatedly interrupted by catcalls.

Dozens of people turned their backs while Beraja spoke. Others demanded that he reveal the contents of a list of names of government and judicial officials who Beraja claims blocked the AMIA investigation.

Beraja has said he was going to make the list public. But he refused to do it during the ceremony, saying, "I reject public vengeance."

Visibly upset, Beraja told the crowd: "I respect the tribunals and the courts. If we want justice, we have to uphold the laws of a civilized country."

His words were drowned by chants of "Names. Names."

Following the speeches, a scuffle broke out when Corach and other officials left the site.

The crowd reserved its applause for opposition politicians and Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Aviran, a strong critic of the Argentine government's stalled investigation.

At noon, the crowd slowly filed past the bombing site, where a huge black banner was draped over the new AMIA building, which is still under construction.

People then walked arm-in-arm across the downtown area to the square in front of the central courthouse building. There mourners lit 86 memorial candles, a poem was read and two popular musicians sang.

After the ceremony was over, dozens of people stayed at the square hugging and crying.

That same day, Beraja paid an unexpected visit to government officials to apologize for the incidents at the memorial ceremony.

"Jewish leaders do not share the insults and accusations made against President Carlos Menem," said Beraja, who also offered an apology to Corach.

Along with its fruitless probe into the AMIA blast, the Argentine government has also come under withering criticism for its inability to solve the March 17, 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy here, which left 29 dead and some 100 wounded.

Jewish leaders here and abroad have cited incompetence, corruption and anti-Semitism among security and government officials as causes for Argentina's inability to solve either case.

The anniversary of the AMIA blast was also marked in New York Friday of last week, when more than 100 people gathered opposite the Argentine Consulate for a memorial service and for what was billed as a "call for justice."

Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the memorial featured Elie Wiesel as the keynote speaker.

The council also delivered a message to the consulate demanding that the Argentine government apprehend the attack's perpetrators.

A day earlier, demonstrators outside the consulate held a vigil at which Rabbi Avi Weiss accused the Argentine president of a cover-up in the investigation.

Weiss, whose Coalition for Jewish Concerns — AMCHA sponsored the July 17 vigil, said, "It is inconceivable that three years after this horrific event, not one suspect has been apprehended."