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Argentine Military Battles Antisemitism

In another sign of change in South America, the Argentine military signed an agreement earlier this month incorporating the Anti-Defamation League’s educational materials on racism and antisemitism into the curriculum of the country’s military schools.

The agreement between the army and the Rioplatense foundation, an Argentine human rights group, was supposed to have been celebrated last week in New York with a meeting between the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, and Fernando Maurette, Argentina’s vice-minister of defense and the person responsible for the project. The event was canceled because of the snowstorm that engulfed New York last Tuesday.

Maurette explained in an interview with the Forward that the agreement was intended to ingrain human rights values in an institution that is still associated by many with the military junta of the 1970s, and in Jewish minds with Nazi sympathies.

“There is a prejudice against the Argentine military even though the army has remained on the sidelines of politics over the past 20 years, and this even though there has been a lot of chaos recently and many opportunities for them to interfere,” said Maurette, who is an anthropologist with no military background. “So we need to improve not only the image, but also make sure this teaching is thorough.”

Besides his ministerial position and his Peronist loyalties, Maurette heads the international studies center at the Rioplatense foundation. The foundation was started with the support of the Buenos Aires regional government but is now sustained exclusively by private donors.

Through some Jewish friends, Maurette contacted the ADL for assistance in tackling the issues of antisemitism and racism in the military schools. He reached an agreement with the American Jewish group in April of last year, which entailed bringing seven officials from the Buenos Aires regional government, including police officials, to the ADL’s headquarters in New York for training. In the meantime, the foundation and the ADL worked together to translate and adapt the ADL’s “A World of Difference” manual.

Teach-ins and seminars on tolerance were organized last year at police and magistrates’ schools. But the main project was to formally incorporate the manual into the curricula of several educational institutions, starting with the military schools. Through his position in government, Maurette had access to the top military officials and pushed the idea.

He said he did not meet any resistance from an institution eager to clean its slate. A formal agreement was signed with the chief of the army on April 4.

Maurette expects the program will start in a couple of months and hopes to convince Foxman to jump on a plane to Argentina to give a presentation to the military pupils.

“Abe talking to them, that would be something,” he said with a smile.

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