A quasi-governmental Israeli body has acknowledged formally that the 1994 bombing of a Jewish communal center in Argentina, in which 85 people were killed, may have been an unanticipated consequence of Israeli military actions in South Lebanon.
The acknowledgement came in the second annual report of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem think tank affiliated to the Jewish Agency for Israel. The report, released July 11, cites the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires as a possible consequence of Israel’s assassination in early 1992 of the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Abbas Mussawi.
The Mussawi assassination and AMIA bombing are cited to back up the institute’s call for Israel to weigh consequences on Diaspora Jews when formulating government policy.
“It seems that the question of whether the Israeli action might trigger an attack on Jewish people targets was not considered,” the institute said in its executive report. “There exists no formal mechanism in the Israeli government to systematically take into account considerations pertaining to the Jewish people.”
The 11th anniversary of the bombing, the world’s deadliest antisemitic attack since World War II, was marked this week in Buenos Aires with a call by the country’s main Jewish groups for a thorough investigation of the attack. No one was ever convicted.
A call for formal Israel-Diaspora policy consultations appeared in the policy institute’s first annual report, issued in September 2004. The decision to cite the deadly Lebanon-Argentina causality link appears intended to ratchet up the pressure on Israeli leaders to enact the recommendation of the first report.
The past year has seen the virtual collapse of Argentina’s investigation into the bombing, with the acquittal of the only people to have been arrested in connection with the attack — several Argentine policemen and a car thief indicted as accessories.
In Buenos Aires last week, the government of President Nestor Kirchner issued decrees formalizing Argentina’s acknowledgment in March before the human rights commission of the Organizations of American States that successive governments had covered up the facts and that victims were entitled to compensation. The government also pledged to upgrade a Justice Ministry investigative unit charged with solving the case.
This was the latest in a series of pledges by Kirchner to step up the investigation. Late last year, following the collapse of the case, the Kirchner administration sacked the investigative team appointed by his predecessor and archrival Carlos Menem.
The government’s new decision was hailed by Memoria Activa, a small group of family victims that has vocally criticized past investigations and brought the case before the Inter-American Court of the Organizations of American States.
Leaders of Argentina’s main Jewish representative groups, DAIA and AMIA, warned this week that bringing the culprits to justice remains the primary task. They said that progress had been slow, contrasting the Argentine case to the recent London bombings in which the perpetrators were identified within days.
The new government investigating team has not made any significant public pronouncement since taking over last year.
In a further sign of disarray in the case, Interpol, the international police agency, has suspended implementation of arrest warrants against 12 Iranian diplomats that were issued by the previous judge and upheld by the current investigating team.
“There is no progress in the investigation, either locally and internationally,” said Alfredo Neuburger, a spokesman for DAIA. “The Kirchner government has been in power for two years and it’s time to see some results.”
The government did not specify the amount of victim compensation, which will require new legislation in parliament. In 1995, the families received $65,000 each in compensation from the Menem government.
Left-leaning groups and some victims’ organizations have since accused Menem of obstructing the investigation and, according to some critics, negotiating a payoff with Iran to shield Tehran from responsibility. Menem has fiercely denied the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated. Juan Jose Galeano, the judge appointed by Menem to head the investigation, eventually issued an indictment in March 2003 against elements of the Iranian government and its proxy militia, Hezbollah.
Galeano is now facing permanent suspension by the country’s top judicial body for numerous irregularities in his handling of the case, most notably a $400,000 payment to the key witness in the case.
The new investigative team has not questioned the so-called international track and actually renewed the arrest warrants issued by Galeano against a dozen Iranian diplomats and intelligence officials.
The working assumption of Argentine investigators is that the AMIA bombing, as well as the bombing two years earlier of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, were direct retaliations for Israeli operations in South Lebanon. Israeli forces killed Mussawi and his family a month before the embassy bombing, in which 29 people died. Three months before the AMIA attack, Israel kidnapped Lebanese Shiite leader Mustafa Dirani in an attempt to extract information on a missing Israeli soldier. They also raided a Hezbollah camp in Lebanon.
Israeli security officials have spoken over the years of a link between Israeli actions and the Argentine bombings. This is the first time the attack has been cited by an official Israeli body as an example of government failure to anticipate the consequences of its actions beyond Israel. Diaspora Jewish groups, particularly in the United States, commonly reject attempts to describe attacks on Jewish targets as consequences of Israeli actions that might have been anticipated.
American Jewish groups reacted coolly last year when the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute first called for an Israel-Diaspora consultative mechanism to weigh Diaspora consequences of Israeli policies.
In the months since then, several initiatives have been launched, notably by the policy institute and Israeli President Moshe Katsav, to convene groups of prominent Diaspora Jews for consultation on intermarriage, antisemitism and other issues.
In this year’s report, the policy institute raises several issues on which it says consultations are called for, including the “Who is a Jew” debate and Jewish education.
However, the highest-stakes issues cited are life-and-death decisions on security, including the Mussawi assassination.
“There is no doubt that the AMIA bombing was connected to the Mussawi operation and that the government at the time was unaware of possible consequences for Jews abroad,” said Avinoam Bar-Yosef, the director general of the institute. “We believe Israeli decision-makers should take into account not only what happens in Israel or to Israelis.”
While the report noted a growing Israeli sensitivity to Diaspora needs — citing the creation of an office of minister for Diaspora affairs, expansion of the mandate of the Knesset immigration committee and increased interest within Israel’s National Security Council — Bar-Yosef said flatly, “We are not there yet.”