Anti-Semitism in Argentina: An Eyewitness Report

In the midst of writing about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in my own native borough of Brooklyn, I was recently taken aback to read about an attack on a local rabbi in Buenos Aires.  The incident spurred concern in Argentina, which is home to more than 180,000 Jews, that is to say the third largest community in the Americas after the United States and Canada.  According to reports, several assailants entered the home of Gabriel Davidovich and beat him while shouting, “We know you are the rabbi of the AMIA,” referencing a prominent Jewish group called the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association.  Davidovich was hospitalized after suffering several broken ribs and a punctured lung, while the vandals made off with some money and some belongings.

Further evidence of more anti-Semitism, which has been resurfacing far and wide in both Europe and North America?  Davidovich himself has said he’s not sure if the attack was anti-Semitic in nature, or just a routine robbery.  Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri expressed his condolences, though he too refrained from labeling the incident as specifically anti-Semitic.  Though investigators believe the attackers deliberately targeted Davidovich, they are exploring the possibility that vandals were acting out of revenge in response to a marriage that had been annulled by the rabbi a few years previously.

Curious to get to the bottom of this mystery, while assessing the underlying social climate towards Jews in Argentina more generally, I flew to Buenos Aires in late August.  The city’s vibrant and sizable Jewish community can be seen while touring the historic neighborhood of Once, home to Davidovich’s organization AMIA, as well as other districts such as Abasto and Villa Crespo, the latter humorously referred to as “Villa Kreplach.”  Walking around the area, one cannot help notice the various synagogues, kosher restaurants and shops.

Revival of Anti-Semitism?

In short order, I headed straight for AMIA, where I caught up with Ariel Eichbaum, the organization’s president.  “There’s no basis for saying the attack was anti-Semitic,” he told me, adding that the assailants didn’t paint swastikas or anti-Semitic symbols in Davidovich’s home.  The incident, he declared, was simply one of many highlighting the general level of insecurity in Argentina, a country which finds itself in the midst of economic crisis.

Whatever the case, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Argentina.  According to statistics, anti-Semitic incidents rose by 14 percent in 2017 in relation to the previous year.  Recently, a swastika was spray-painted on a Jewish-owned hair salon in Buenos Aires, and neo-Nazi pamphlets were distributed in the area.  In another case, a cantor was attacked while returning home from Shabat.  And, in a more recent twist, anti-Semitism has been increasing on the internet. 

Outside the capital, the situation is hardly better.  Just this past June, a rabbi was assaulted by three youths in the town of Rosario, an industrial town which is home to the third largest Jewish community in the country.  Shouting anti-Semitic epithets, the attackers hit their target in the head and abdomen before throwing the rabbi to the floor.  In the northeastern town of Resistencia, meanwhile, a swastika was spray-painted on a Holocaust memorial, and in the Jewish cemetery of San Luis province, nine gravestones were vandalized.

DAIA, or the Delegation of Israeli-Argentina Associations, shares offices in the same high security building as AMIA.  Marisa Braylan, director of DAIA’s Center of Social Studies, told me her organization receives word of such incidents from outside provinces.  “We are convinced there are more complaints than what actually winds up getting reported,” she said, adding that many people are either fearful or ambivalent when it comes to bringing attention to such abuses.

Coming to Terms with the “Tragic Week”

Where does all this anti-Semitic sentiment come from?  Walking near downtown Buenos Aires, I picked up on painful history, specifically a plaque commemorating a general strike in 1919.  During the “Tragic Week,” right-wing paramilitaries hunted down unionists and others, taking hundreds of lives.  The strike also led to a pogrom in which many Jews were beaten and killed and had their property confiscated or looted.  Angry mobs denouncing “Bolshevism” hunted down Jews and even burned two Jewish libraries, with the Once neighborhood being particularly targeted.

Reportedly, mobs were led by sons of the Argentine elite, who sought to protect national identity, conservatism and Catholicism against the influence of “Rusos,” that is to say purportedly more foreign, communist and anarchist Jews.  Miriam Lewin, an investigative journalist and former Jewish leftist activist during Argentina’s military dictatorship, has written about anti-Semitism during this brutal chapter of her country’s history.  According to her, a Jewish journalist was detained by the police during the Tragic Week, accused of trying to promote a “Soviet” in Argentina and brutally tortured.

Though the plaque pointed out that many workers perished during the Tragic Week, no mention was made of specific anti-Semitic violence.  Unfortunately, Braylan remarked that on the hundredth anniversary of the atrocity, few are aware of this regrettable past, though to be sure there had been some discussion in the media and an academic conference was held about the issue at the local Holocaust museum.

Controversial Wartime Record

Later historic developments underscore rightist anti-Semitic sentiment within Argentine society.  At one point, while touring around Buenos Aires, I came upon Luna Park, a sports stadium with a disturbing historical past.  In April 1938, 15,000 pro-Nazi Argentines rallied here to celebrate Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria.  During the 1930s and World War II, many Argentines and German residents of Argentina remained sympathetic to the Nazis.  Recently, DAIA released a documentary entitled “The Argentinean Role during WWII,” which included images from the rally at Luna Park.  According to Braylan, the event constituted “the most important demonstration in favor of Hitler outside Germany” at the time.

Braylan has helped shed light on declassified records pertaining to Argentina’s controversial wartime role.  Though the country officially remained neutral during World War II, the Foreign Ministry forbid entry to “non-desirable immigrants,” meaning Jews who sought to flee Nazi persecution in Europe.  Braylan herself is proud of DAIA’s archival work, remarking to me, “we had an important impact when our investigators shared all that information with the media, which in turn brought this history to public attention.”

From Graf Spee to Nazi Relics

Argentina’s controversial wartime past continues to reverberate in unlikely ways.  In the early months of the war, German pocket battleship Graf Spee docked in the nearby port of Montevideo after suffering damage at the “Battle of the River Plate.”  Rather than surrender his vessel to the allies, captain Hans Langsdorff scuttled the Graf Spee, and the entire crew was received in Argentina.

A few days later, Langsdorff himself committed suicide in Buenos Aires, and his funeral was attended by a whopping 300,000 Argentines.  For years, his tomb served as a shrine to rightists who treated the grave as a pilgrimage site; indeed, skinheads even unfurled Nazi swastika flags at the cemetery at one point.  Not to be outdone, members of a group called the Argentine Nationalist Tacuara Movement, or simply Tacuara, wore armbands and gave the Nazi salute at Graf Spee commemorative events.

The question of what to do with repugnant Nazi symbolism and artifacts continues to be a vexing one.  Recently, Argentine police in Buenos Aires uncovered a cache of original Nazi objects from World War II, including tools employed for Nazi medical experiments.  Other items included objects used to check Nazi racial purity and puzzles for children.  Authorities have stated they would prefer to see the objects exhibited at the local Holocaust museum.

Previously, the government sought to rein in public display of such objects, and under an anti-discrimination law, a vendor of Nazi souvenirs was ordered to perform community service and take a course about the Holocaust.  For Braylan, the resurfacing of such objects poses a bit of a dilemma.  “I wouldn’t show them in public,” she told me.  “On the other hand,” she added, “I am also sensitive toward the issue of free speech, and I think this material shouldn’t be prohibited.  I would like to see the objects clearly labeled with a disclaimer that this is racist material, akin to pornography.”

Pseudo-Leftist Military Anti-Semitism

As the recent world-wide outbreak of anti-Semitism has demonstrated, hostility toward Jews can take many forms, and Argentina is no exception.  Indeed, while events surrounding the Tragic Week took on a distinctly anti-leftist character, Juan Perón later demonstrated that supposed populists and anti-imperialists can hold backward positions as well.  Walking around downtown Buenos Aires, I came upon a vestige of Argentina’s post-war past after taking in ABC Café, a German restaurant where Adolph Eichmann reportedly met with Josef Mengele.

Perón’s rise to power in 1946 worried the Jewish community, since the colonel was a fascist sympathizer.  Though he also expressed sympathy for Jewish rights and promoted diplomatic relations with Israel, he allowed Argentina to become a haven for German and Austrian war criminals.  In another ominous development, Perón refused to sideline his nationalist and anti-Semitic supporters.  But perhaps somewhat more iconoclastically, he adopted an anti-U.S. and anti-British position while preaching the virtues of social justice.

Reportedly, Perón sought out Nazi technicians and even formed “welcoming committees” in Buenos Aires tasked with greeting Nazi refugees on arrival.  There is speculation the Nazis paid Perón and his wife Evita for providing safe refuge, and the latter even arranged for transfers of Nazi gold to Argentina.  In addition, there is evidence that German businessmen linked to the Nazis made investments in Argentina through German companies.

From Leftist Pseudo Populists to Right-Wing Military

Ironically, even though Perón harbored Nazi war criminals and the like, the anti-Semitic climate worsened even more after the strongman was removed by a military coup in 1955.  Indeed, when Mossad agents kidnapped Adolf Eichmann five years later, nationalists took advantage of the incident.  After accusing Jews of displaying “dual loyalties,” rightists conducted a wave of anti-Semitic attacks.

The primary culprits were members of aforementioned Tacuara, young Catholic nationalists who were hostile to liberalism, Communism and Jews.  Tacuara carried out assaults and bombings.  According to the Jewish community, extremists escaped justice by cultivating high level links to the military, church and police.  However, over time Tacuara became somewhat ideologically inchoate, with one paramilitary faction becoming increasingly Peronist and leftist while retaining underlying anti-Semitic sentiment.

Argentine anti-Semitism, then, would seem to oscillate between classic European anti-Semitic tropes, featuring rightist Catholicism, and more modern, thug-like populism reflecting fascistic undertones of both the right and left.  In this sense, the military dictatorship of 1976-83 combined many of these tendencies, that is to say strong allegiances to the Church with a Nazi bent.  After dislodging Perón’s second wife Isabel, who had succeeded to the presidency after the death of her husband in 1974, the military began to round up leftists with Jews being treated particularly harshly.

Yiddish Theater

Today, one can get a glimpse into this dark history by paying a visit to the old Jewish People’s Theater, also known as Teatro IFT.  The first independent Yiddish theater in Buenos Aires, IFT had its own drama school and offered courses in Yiddish language and literature.  The theater had a decidedly leftist political bent, which hardly helped to ingratiate the IFT with the new military dictatorship.  Passing in front of IFT, I spotted a memorial plaque built into the sidewalk.  Peering closer, I saw the names of leftist IFT members who had been kidnapped and killed by the military.

Under the dictatorship, the military went after leftists though Jews were particularly targeted for kidnapping and torture, totaling about 1,000 out of 9,000 victims of state terror.  Speaking with Eichbaum, the AMIA president told me“there was definitely an anti-Semitic bent within military schools at the time and after the 1976 coup.  Suspects weren’t rounded up for being Jewish per se, but rather because of their leftist political activities.  On the other hand, there are many testimonials alleging that Jews were singled out and tortured more severely than others.”

The Timerman Case

Eichbaum might have been referring to the likes of Jacobo Timerman, editor and publisher of a leading Buenos Aires newspaper.  Born in Soviet Ukraine, Timerman fled Jewish pogroms for a better life in Argentina, only to witness what he called the army’s descent into “the heart of Nazi operations.”  When the army learned that a Jewish banker who financed Timerman’s newspaper had laundered money for a Marxist guerrilla group, the journalist was arrested and tortured.

At the time, officers were known to study anti-Semitic literature in military academies, and Zionism was described as even more insidious than Communism.  In accordance with its fear of the modern world, the military government banned psychology as a university major as well as Freudian techniques in psychiatry.  In fact, psychiatrists were abducted from hospitals since they were linked to Freud, a figure who, like Marx, was also a Jew and one of the intellectual pillars of the twentieth century.

In the dark days of dictatorship, talk of supposed Jewish conspiracies aimed at taking over Argentina was commonplace within officer circles.  As he was being interrogated, Timerman was asked if he was Jewish or a Zionist, and whether his newspaper was similarly Zionist.  As he was subjected to electro-shock torture, Timerman’s jailers repeatedly shouted “Jew!” while clapping their hands and laughing.

As if that was not enough, on the wall of his cell hung a picture of Hitler.  Timerman was also questioned about a supposed secret trip which Menachem Begin made to Argentina, and Zionist schemes to take over Patagonia and turn the region into another Zionist state, the supposed “Plan Andinia.”  According to investigative journalist Lewin, interrogators tried to pressure Timerman into “confessing” his complicity in the scheme.

Poignant Testimonial

Hoping to gain further insights, I caught up with Lewin herself, a former Jewish militant in the University Peronist Youth League who was tortured by the military.  Confirming what Eichbaum had mentioned earlier, my contact remarked that in general, Jews were not kidnapped simply for being Jews but rather because of their political activity.  However, she added that in certain cases, the military kidnapped Jewish businessmen in order to acquire their property, or detained others simply for being the fathers or brothers of militants.

Ariel Seidler, Director of Programs at the Latin American Jewish Congress, says other anecdotal evidence belies underlying anti-Semitism within the ranks.  Speaking to me at the organization’s headquarters in the Once neighborhood, he told me that during the Falklands War, the Argentine military mistreated Jewish conscripts during conflict in the British overseas possession.

Lewin’s experience lends credence to underlying anti-Semitism within the armed forces.  In 1977, she was kidnapped and detained at a facility within the army mechanics school, known by its Spanish acronym ESMA, and at another center pertaining to the air force.  Though it had been established more recently, Lewin remarked that the air force was particularly known for being conservative, Catholic and nationalist.

Indeed, within her own cell at the air force facility, Lewin observed a swastika drawn on the wall.  One officer even tried to convert her to Catholicism.  “He wasn’t outwardly anti-Semitic,” she explained, “but rather assumed an evangelist attitude and gave me a copy of the New Testament.  He always talked about Jesus, though he couldn’t tell me if Jesus would have justified torture.”

Another one of Lewin’s captors asked her what period of history she would have most liked to have lived in.  When she answered France during the Second World War, her captor remarked, “you would have had a really bad time, because you are Jewish.”  Lewin told the man she would have fought with the resistance, to which her captor responded “it’s clear that in whatever period of history, we would have been on opposing sides.”  On another occasion, while she was detained at ESMA, Lewin fell into conversation with a fellow Jewish woman inmate who had hid her true identity from the military, convinced she would suffer retaliation if officers became aware she was Jewish.

Unsolved Terrorist Attacks

To be sure, such distasteful anti-Semitism has largely dissipated since the resumption of civilian rule in 1983.  And yet, while walking in a posh Buenos Aires neighborhood, I came upon a solemn reminder of terrorism’s human toll: a shrine dedicated to the victims of an attack on the Israeli embassy.  On the afternoon of March 17, 1992 a car bomb killed 29 people – four Israelis and 25 Argentinians – and injured nearly 250 while reducing the embassy building to rubble.  The victims included Israeli diplomats, children, clergy from a church located across the street, and other pedestrians.  A group linked to Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran, claimed responsibility for the blast though no one has been charged or prosecuted for the attack.

The AMIA building itself constitutes yet another solemn reminder of Argentina’s terrorist history.  Indeed, just two years after the Israeli embassy blast, an explosion killed 87 people and wounded more than 100, similarly reducing AMIA to rubble.  The Argentine judicial system has long held that Hezbollah was similarly behind the carnage and was acting as a proxy for Iran, though no one has been convicted for the attack.  To this day, poignant banners hang outside AMIA displaying names of the fallen, while memorial murals line walls of the nearby Pasteur subway station.

As if the travesty of justice could get no worse in light of earlier botched attempts to solve the embassy case, the AMIA investigation was plagued with irregularities from the outset.  Indeed, the initial judge, two prosecutors and a former intelligence chief were all found guilty of embezzlement and cover-up of the case.  Such failures have prompted relatives of the victims to criticize not only the judicial system but also high-up officials at DAIA itself.

As if the story could get no more bizarre, special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was himself Jewish, accused then president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of conducting a secret agreement between Argentina and Iran to close the AMIA case in return for a trade deal.  Kirchner, who came from the leftist populist Peronist tradition, was backed by two other, pro-Iranian far left politicians.  During wiretapped conversations, the latter claimed to be acting as a bridge between Argentina and Iran.  Nisman was later found dead from a gunshot wound, just days after accusing Kirchner of obstructing justice.  The government has ruled his mysterious death a suicide, and no one has been convicted of foul play.

From AMIA Blast to Mysterious Nisman Case

On the surface at least, the two terrorist attacks would seem to have little to do with Argentina’s longtime historic experience with anti-Semitism, since the blasts were simply linked to wider geopolitical rivalries in the Middle East.  “The attack against the AMIA building was not perpetrated by anti-Semitic Argentines,” Eichbaum told me, “but rather people linked to international terrorism like Hezbollah and Iran, who in turn had some local connections.”  Failure to solve the AMIA case, he added, had nothing to do with anti-Semitism but rather corruption and lack of political follow-through.  Eichbaum has meanwhile said that Nisman “was assassinated” for taking up the AMIA cause.  In a similar vein, failure to uncover what happened to Nisman was certainly a “disgrace,” though this too had more to do with politics as opposed to explicit anti-Semitism.

Braylan believed that failure to resolve the AMIA case may have something to do with anti-Semitism, but one must take into account that the judicial system in Argentina is in a constant state of crisis.  “When you bear in mind that the justice system can’t even settle a routine divorce, imagine how difficult it is to get to the bottom of a massive terrorist attack.”  Braylan and her organization have spoken with officials about the investigation countless times, and though officials promise to do more, the chances of solving the crime so many years later seem remote.

Lingering Questions over Terror Attacks

An open-shut case of Middle East terrorism and botched investigations, then?  Lewin holds a different view.  In her book, Iosi, the Repentant Spy, co-authored with Horacio Lutzky, Lewin claims to have come into contact with an intelligence agent employed by the federal police, who was allegedly sent by his superiors to infiltrate the Jewish community during the period of both terrorist plots against the Israeli embassy and the AMIA building.

Lewin claims that Iosi (a pseudonym to protect the true source’s true identity) was ordered to acquire information about Plan Andinia, the supposed secret Jewish plot to take over Patagonia.  The orders reflected maniacal obsessions within the federal police, which considered Jews to be a menace.  “Iosi,” Lewin told me, “is convinced that he passed information on to his superiors which could have served to help commit the terrorist attacks, unconsciously of course.”  Specifically, Iosi was ordered to hand over structural details about individual buildings.  As if such charges weren’t inflammatory enough, Lewin and Lutzky claim that both DAIA and AMIA have essentially embraced the official version of events, while averting their eyes from counter-narratives.

“Please,” Eichbaum remarked dismissively, adding “I have never seen this book, and the central argument has nothing to do with actual judicial case files.  We have a lawyer who specializes in the AMIA case and he knows more about this issue than anyone else in Argentina.  There is no evidence of what is claimed in this book.”  Eichbaum did concede, however, that the military may have embraced outlandish theories such as Plan Andinia, and he further acknowledged that relations between AMIA and some family members of the terrorist attack had not always been smooth.  “There’s an extreme ultra minority faction which believes that previous AMIA leadership encouraged a cover-up, which has led to disagreements.”

Reforming the Church and Police

Despite Argentina’s long-standing history of anti-Semitism, for all intents and purposes today’s Buenos Aires Jewish community displays all the hallmarks of being well-integrated into society. Since the return of democracy, Braylan told me, her organization has offered sensitivity courses within the army and police in an effort to rid the country of historic anti-Semitism.  Indeed, DAIA enjoys a sound relationship with the police, which has erected a guard post at a Jewish cemetery in Buenos Aires.  Neo-Nazi groups, meanwhile, are tiny and insignificant, and unlike the United States, people refrain from spreading openly white supremacist rhetoric.

To be sure, Catholics and the church constitute a mixed picture.  Last year, there was a heated debate in Congress about abortion, which is illegal in Argentina.  Some of the anti-abortion groups also happened to be anti-Semitic, and they accused Jews of supporting the medical practice.  In the end, abortion continued to be outlawed, though Braylan believes the whole debate gave conservative forces license to engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric.  On the other hand, DAIA itself has developed amicable relations with the church.  “I’m not saying there aren’t right wing sectors of the church that still say the Jews murdered Christ,” she explained, “but today there’s a lot of positive dialogue with church authorities.”

A Well-Integrated Community

Throughout her life Braylan has lived in Villa Crespo, “which is like the Brooklyn of Buenos Aires and mostly comprised of Jews.”  As a young woman, she attended both public elementary and Jewish schools, and never suffered due to anti-Semitism, nor did she witness anti-Semitism directed at others.  To be sure, Braylan picked up on negative views later, while attending university with fellow middle-class students.  In an echo of U.S. campus life and even some leftist circles where negative stereotypes may surface, “people used to say, ‘Jews have a lot of money, they manage the entire world, they have influence.’  They used to make these remarks right in front of me, without knowing who I was, or they would say ‘oh you’re Jewish, you don’t look like it.’”

Eichbaum shares similar life experiences.  “The Jewish community here is very well accepted,” he said, “and in Argentina we have Jewish ministers, senators and governors.”  In one case, when Israel was engaged in hostilities in Gaza, people shouted “assassin!” when Eichbaum passed by on the street, and a crowd followed him for a couple of blocks, all the while yelling and hollering.  Outside of that, however, nothing untoward has happened to him.

Anti-Semitism and Economic Crisis

Has Argentina turned the page on its anti-Semitic past?  Historically, anti-Semitism may surface during economic crisis, and some may lash out at Jews, who are perceived as prosperous and having a lot of influence over the media. “In the midst of the economic meltdown we’re experiencing,” Braylan remarked, “the middle class is startled, and that could be quite dangerous as they will start to discriminate against others.”  For his part, Eichbaum believed that anti-Semitism could be linked to the mediocre caliber of education in Argentina.  But while my contact agreed that social inequality could certainly encourage a backward mindset, such a leap is not absolute, since someone who suffers from poverty doesn’t necessarily turn towards anti-Semitic views.

Most recently, Braylan added, immigrants have born the brunt of economic crisis and discrimination, in particular Bolivians and Paraguayans looking for work.  Perhaps, however, both immigrants and Jews will be targeted in an echo of recent trends in the United States.  “It could be a similar situation to what we observed in Pittsburgh,” Braylan said, referring to a shooter who abhorred Jews but also Mexicans.  “These exclusionary and racist sentiments are based on everything which is supposedly pure and Argentine, which is an absurd idea and doesn’t exist in the first place, since we are all descended from immigrants in this country.  The only people who are arguably pure are the original indigenous peoples, who were conquered and wiped out.”

Thorny Palestinian Question

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism can be amplified over sensitivities related to the Middle East and Israel.  Recently, Argentine soccer fans shouted anti-Semitic slurs against Atlanta, a Jewish team, chanting that Jews should be killed to make soap.  Opposing fans wore T-shirts bearing Iranian symbols, and brandished Palestinian flags as they hurled insults.  When their team lost against Atlanta, fans simply rioted.

When Braylan first started studying anti-Semitism, the phenomenon was most associated with the political right and neo-Nazis, fascists, conservative parties and the church.  But in the last few years, that situation has started to change with the emergence of ultra-leftists on campus and certain intellectual circles.

To be sure, not all critics of Israel are anti-Semitic.  However, both Braylan and Eichbaum viewed such critics as somewhat inconsistent, since they failed to condemn other regimes, including religiously theocratic ones, for oppressing their own citizens.  “They’re very worried about the Palestinian people,” Braylan said, “but not about any other people, and this can slyly serve to disguise anti-Semitism.”  Perhaps more jarringly, some Jewish politicians even make anti-Semitic statements themselves.

Neo-Nazi Candidate

Meanwhile, underlying social tensions are giving rise to anti-Semitic sentiments within public life: rather ominously, Argentina just witnessed the emergence of its own, home-grown neo-Nazi presidential candidate.  Alejandro Biondini, an ultra-nationalist, has in the past praised Hitler and led chants of “death to traitors, cowards and Jews.”  Defining himself as a defender of the Palestinian cause, he vowed to expel the Israeli ambassador.  Channeling Juan Perón and subsequent right-wing military junta which fought a war over the Falklands, Biondini promised to expel the British ambassador for good measure.

Biondini launched his presidential campaign within an auditorium located at the Italian civil organization, Unione e Benevolenza, right in downtown Buenos Aires.  During the ceremony, the politician’s supporters, including both men and women, didn’t give the Nazi salute but rather sported black shirts bearing the logo of their party, Patriotic Front.  In the background, musicians played guitar and accordion.  Biondini himself meanwhile praised the Virgin Mary, while lambasting the International Monetary Fund, promising full employment and pledging to deport foreigners.

“I don’t know anything about Unione e Benevolenza,” Braylan remarked, “but I would imagine they are all fascists.”   When I asked my contact whether Biondini followers reflected a certain profile, she answered, “I imagine they are middle or upper middle class and very conservative.”  Recently, DAIA condemned a judge’s decision to approve Biondini’s new party.  The politician’s old party, New Triumph, was banned by Argentina’s electoral court in 2009.

In condemning the judge, DAIA declared that Biondini represented “a danger to an egalitarian society.”  Apparently, the antipathy is mutual: during the launching of his campaign, Biondini denounced DAIA, railing “this is Argentina … this is not Israel,” to much applause from the crowd.  In the end, Biondini was eliminated in the first round of the presidential election, having only secured 53,000 votes in a country of 44 million.

Still, one wonders how a neo-Nazi candidate could have gotten any support in the first place.  In a sense, with his appeals to both the conservative right and populist left, Biondini echoes many of the essential historic tropes which have defined Argentine anti-Semitism.  As the country navigates economic crisis and a volatile and fraught political environment, it is to be hoped that future politicians will not take advantage of such divisions by resorting to age-old Jew hatred.

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