Rash of anti-Semitic incidents leaves Argentine Jews rattled

buenos aires | Argentine Jewish leaders are wondering whether a string of recent anti-Semitic incidents indicates a growing trend of Jew-hatred.

Abraham Kaul, president of the AMIA central Jewish institution, couldn’t hide his concern last week at a meeting with Jewish media.

At dawn on Nov. 14, swastikas and a picture of Hitler were found at the Jewish cemetery of Liniers. The following day, more graffiti — swastikas and threatening messages — had been added.

The messages included “Kristallnacht 08/11/38,” a reference to the murderous pogrom that heralded the onset of the Nazis’ most restrictive anti-Semitic policies; and “Movement Walther Darre,” a reference to a former Nazi agriculture minister who was born in Argentina.

The attack on the Liniers cemetery, located on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the country, followed three previous attacks there this year, in which bronze plaques were stolen.

“Are these signs of an escalation of anti-Semitic violence in the region?” Kaul asked. What worried him most was the fact that the incidents showed “something more than a soccer fan’s ignorant anti-Semitic song. These demonstrations seem to be more learned.”

At dawn on Nov. 15, a Hitler drawing and Nazi inscriptions were found on a bus belonging to the Maimonides Jewish school.

The DAIA, the Jewish community’s political umbrella organization, met with federal police to demand an explanation for why a 24-hour police presence at the cemetery couldn’t prevent such attacks, and what could be done differently in the future.

Authorities said police had been in the bathroom when the graffiti were painted.

Within the past two weeks, three other local Jewish institutions — the Hebraica Jewish club, Paso Temple and the Sephardic Congregation — suffered bomb threats, though the news was not made public to avoid spreading fear in a country where bombings destroyed the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the AMIA community center in 1994.

According to Claudio Avruj, the DAIA’s executive director, there have been more than 100 incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti in Buenos Aires this year.

But he stressed that “DAIA does not believe there is a Nazi escalation. Instead, “Yasser Arafat’s funeral, the Kristallnacht commemoration and the appeal of the AMIA trial acquittal sentence” may have contributed to the incidents.

The last reference was to the community’s decision to appeal the acquittal of five locals accused of complicity in the 1994 AMIA bombing. The attack, which killed 85 people and injured 300, remains unsolved.

Beyond the timing of the recent incidents, however, there has been a rise in the intensity of anti-Semitic incidents this year.

A few months ago, a Buenos Aires city legislator called one of her office employees a “s—– Jew,” but was not punished.

Three weeks ago, an Argentine rabbi was giving a university lecture when a dozen people in the audience stood up and gave the Nazi salute.

In September, a 16-year-old student who brought a gun to class killed three classmates and wounded five. Though the victims weren’t Jewish, the student later told a psychologist that he was moved to act because he admired Hitler.

Jewish officials are putting aside differences among their organizations to search for ways to fight such occurrences.

“Although we have clear political differences with the DAIA, we will act together in the demand to live freely and in peace,’ said AMIA’s Kaul.

On Nov. 17, leaders of DAIA and AMIA met with the governor of Buenos Aires province and security officials to discuss the cemetery incident and what is being done to investigate the incidents.

DAIA also will hold a meeting with city security officials on how police can prevent future such incidents.