Dont cry invasion, Argentina its anti-Semitism

buenos aires | As Argentine President Nestor Kirchner left last week for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, he hoped to continue making progress on the investigation of the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ main Jewish community center.

That probe, he believed, would improve relations with the country’s Jewish community, which had long complained about the government’s slow and inept investigation of the AMIA attack, which killed 85 people.

But Kirchner’s trip is being overshadowed by a scandal at home involving accusations of anti-Semitism.

On Aug. 13, the head of the Argentine army, Roberto Bendini, was giving a class to second-year captains at the War School. Bendini allegedly said that “small Israeli groups” disguised as tourists were planning to invade Argentina’s southern Patagonia region.

Almost a month later, on Sept. 12, the local newspaper Infobae published new information about the substance of that classroom lecture, unleashing a public debate that has resisted government efforts to resolve it.

The journalistic director of Infobae, Jorge Grecco, said that the newspaper story was based on such materials as student notes.

If true, the remarks would be seen as a sign of anti-Semitism in Argentina, where fantastical allegations of a supposed Jewish or Israeli plot to attack Patagonia featured prominently in the arrests and interrogations of many Argentine Jews under the military dictatorships of the 1970s.

Government sources seem to believe that Bendini is the victim of an internal fight in the military following a recent restructuring.

Aside from a phone call last week to AMIA President Abraham Kaul, in which he denied making the reported remarks, Bendini has remained silent.

Grecco said Infobae’s investigation showed that Bendini was obsessed with the idea of a Patagonian invasion.

Kirchner, who had planned to attend Rosh Hashanah services at Manhattan’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue, had hoped to dispel any suggestions of anti-Semitism before the Jewish new year began.

But the controversy is still raging. Now, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is demanding a more intensive investigation.

“The Wiesenthal Center is surprised that the government in this case is lacking the parameters of transparency that were used in other cases,” the center’s Latin America representative, Sergio Widder, said. “There is inscrutability surrounding Bendini’s case.”

Widder called for a commission of legislators to investigate.

“The main harm will be for the government,” Widder said, referring to Kirchner’s attempts to restore government credibility damaged by the bumbling AMIA bombing investigation.

Many local Jews believe Bendini indeed made anti-Semitic remarks but don’t think the incident should be viewed exclusively as a Jewish problem.

“If the head of the army makes anti-Semitic remarks, it’s a threat for democratic institutions, not only for Jews,” said one Buenos Aires Jewish man asked not to be identified. “Why does the head of the national Cabinet feel he has to satisfy the Jews, rather than Argentine society?’