Diplomat defends Argentina

After years of reports from Argentina about Jewish agency bombings, fugitive Nazis and vandalized Jewish cemeteries, the country's new ambassador to the United States says anti-Semitism in his homeland is not a problem.

The ambassador, Diego Ramiro Guelar, fielded concerned questions after his report to about 50 regional board members and friends of the American Jewish Committee in San Francisco Monday of last week.

Others later expressed their disbelief in hushed voices as they were leaving.

Guelar, who is Jewish, told the group that the numerous Arab immigrants in Argentina have friendly relations with Jews. He acknowledged reports of Nazi war criminals in the Patagonian town of Bariloche, but said government officials do not concern themselves with them.

And charges that Argentina, a neutral nation during World War II, secretly supported the Nazi war effort, are simply untrue, he said in heavily accented English.

The Juan Peron government was firm about not getting involved in the war, Guelar explained, just as "neutrality was very strong with most Americans until Pearl Harbor."

It was also during World War II that Argentina received Jewish war refugees by the boat load.

According to Guelar, the country's Jewish intake was unrivaled throughout the world during 1933 to 1945.

"I am very proud of this tradition," he said of the open border policies.

While many of Argentina's Jews later left for Israel, there are still 350,000 in the country. It is one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, with some 40 synagogues in Buenos Aires.

Other immigrant groups also call Argentina home. Its population is 50 percent foreign-born and 95 percent of European descent.

"We are an American melting pot also," Guelar joked.

The ambassador said he represents many Jews who are involved in civic affairs and hold top government posts. Both the chief of police and the deputy chief of police are Jewish, as well as the chief minister of justice, he pointed out.

Even if Jews did not occupy positions of influence, Guelar maintained that the government and public would not tolerate anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitic events that Americans see in newspaper headlines are isolated incidents, he said. The acts do not represent the views of most Argentineans.

In response to a question about why the government hadn't followed through on investigations of several bombings in which many Jews were killed, Guelar said that investigations were pursued as far as possible.

He asserted that the bombings had been staged by foreign terrorists and not Argentineans.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.