Tony Greenstein | 28 April 2017 | Post Views:

Argentine-Israelis Urge Israel to Disclose Past Junta Ties

A demonstration against Argentina’s military junta in 1979. Women from Mothers of the Plaza hold up banners. The one that is clearly visible in the photograph has pictures of some of the “disappeared.”

Argentine-Israelis Urge Israel to Disclose Past Junta Ties

One of the principal justifications for the Israeli state is that it is a refuge of last resort for Jewish people against the recurrence of anti-Semitism.  This is a powerful feeling among many Jews.  Yet I believe it is a myth.  What happened in Argentina is a reminder that for left-wing, socialist and dissident Jews, a far-Right racist Israel is anything but a refuge.

From 1976 to 1983 a neo-Nazi Junta took power in Argentina.  It was supported both by the United States,
as part of Ronald Reagan’s fight against communism in Latin America, and Israel.  It was viciously anti-Semitic and up to 12.5%,
3,000, of those who it tortured and ‘disappeared’ were Jewish. 

Israeli Mirage jets bought in Falklands war, painted with Peruvian flag

According to Jacobo Timerman, the Jewish editor of the liberal La Opinion newspaper. who was himself arrested
and tortured, for the torturers, interrogating non-Jews was a job whilst
interrogating Jews was a pleasure.  A
political opponent could be turned, but a Jew remained a Jew forever. [Prisoner Without a Name, Cell without a Number’,
p.66, Vintage Books, New York, 1981].  Jewish
prisoners were given ‘a double dose of torture and harassment’ and ‘it was known to the Israeli embassy which
maintained relations with ‘moderates’ within the military junta
.’ [Jewish Chronicle 25.5.84., ‘A White Book’ Leader].

An article in the Buenos Aires Herald told how, ‘Jews in Argentina take it for granted that if for any reason they go to
prison, they will be treated far more harshly than Gentiles.
’ [Timerman, p.
136]  Anti-Semitism was a factor both in
the initial kidnapping and the additional torture and murder reserved for
Jews.’ [Edy Kaufman, p.492, Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina, Under
Military Rule (1976-1983), Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol 4, No 4]  Kaufman speaks of a ‘general consensus’ that
Jewish prisoners were subject to more severe treatment by their jailers. [Ibid.
Timerman was released in 1978 and flew to Israel in 1979 where he became
a citizen.  In 1982 he wrote a bitterly
critical book against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, The Longest War: Israel’s Invasion of Lebanon (1982).  He described Israel’s
treatment of the Palestinians as similar to that of Black people in South Africa under
Apartheid.  In response, Deputy Foreign
Minister Yehuda Ben Meir  on the US news program 60 Minutes described
his book as ‘a collection of calumnies and lies arising from his own
.’ [Rein & Davidi, “Exile
of the World” (2010), p. 20.
Marcos’s son Mauricio was an Israeli citizen, who was arrested and
murdered.  Marcos set up in the 1990’s
the Associasion de Familiares de Desaparecidos Judios, an organization of the
families of Jewish persons who disappeared and have not been traced.  Another member, Dr Weinstein described how
Israel’s indifference to the matter began back during the days of the
dictatorship, and has continued to this day.
” [A disappearing act,
Aryeh Dayan
, Ha’aretz 3.1.03.,]
The perception was widespread that ‘The
Jewish state’s concern for the disappeared was subordinated to political and
commercial considerations
.’ [Latin American Weekly Report 17 February 1984
cited by Bishara Bahbah, “Israel’s Military Relationship with Ecuador and
Argentina,” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 15 no. 2, (1986): 94]. 
At the same time that the ambassador was acting on behalf
of the detainees, Israeli agents were waiting outside, bearing proposals for
sales of the means of warfare. Thus, the arms sales were only detrimental to
the cause. [Yitzhak Mualem, Between a Jewish and an Israeli
Foreign Policy: Israel-Argentina Relations and the Issue of Jewish Disappeared
Persons and Detainees under the Military Junta 1976-1983
, Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2004.: citing
Senkman, “The
Rescue of Jews in Argentina during the Military Regime, 1976-1983,” p.
112; Barromi, “Were the Jews of Argentina Abandoned?” p. 69].
In 2002
the Israeli government set up a committee to investigate the disappearance of
Jews but it took care not to offend the Argentinian government.  Its interim report omitted Israel’s role
during the dictatorship. It also rejected the demand to take legal action
against the officers who tortured and killed Jews.  This was consistent with Israel’s own stance
regarding the trying of Israeli military officers and politicians in European
countries or at the International Criminal Court at the Hague for their actions
in the Palestinian territories.  Dr.
Marcos recalled how

We and other Jewish families knocked again and again on the
door of the embassy [in Buenos Aires], and we were always sent away.  I thought that from the report, we would be
able to understand why this happened. Was this a policy that was dictated from
Israel, was it a policy that was decided upon at the embassy … I did not find
even a single word about this in the report.[ Ha’aretz, A disappearing act,

The anti-Semitism of the Argentinian Junta set the case apart from other
examples of Israeli co-operation with repressive regimes.[Aaron Klieman, Israels Global Reach: Arms, Sales As
Diplomacy, p.12, New York, Pergamon-Brassey, 1985]. The Israeli state and the Zionist movement
had a choice between selling military equipment to the Junta or waging a
campaign against the torture and murder of Argentina’s Jews.  The Israeli government chose the former.
According to Timerman’s son, Héctor, Israeli Ambassador Ram Nirgad visited their house,
when he had been released from detention and asked Timerman to sign a letter
saying that he had been well treated and had no problems with the government.
The journalist refused and said he’d rather remain in detention.[Héctor
,” Israel, la dictadura y los consejos de Avivi”, Pagina/12,
3 July 2001, Rein & Davidi, “Exile of the World” (2010), p. 16.
was attacked in the United States by right-wing Zionists who believed he ‘asked
for what he got’
.[Jewish Chronicle [JC] 31. 7. 81].  US neo-conservatives reserved their criticism,
not for the Junta but the Carter administration’s human rights policies. Jean
Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s Secretary of State, fatuously distinguished between
‘authoritarian’ regimes that respected religion and family and totalitarian
ones. [Jean Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorships and Double Standards” Commentary
neo-cons argued that the Junta enjoyed good relations with Israel, which was
an important supplier of arms and military equipment to Argentina.”  This was cited in a memo to Congress as
evidence that the Junta could not be considered anti-Semitic.  Jim Lobe described how Christopher Hitchens
was told by Irving Kristol, a prominent neo-con, that he didn’t believe that
Timerman had suffered anything like that which he had described in the book. [See Decter, “The Uses of Jacobo Timerman”, Contentions,
August, 1981; Seth Lipsky, “A Conversation with Publisher Jacobo Timerman, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 1981.”, and
NYT columnist William Safire].
The reason why Israel and the Zionist movement kept silent was because,
faced with choice of maintaining a profitable arms trade with a regime whose
political goals it supported and speaking out about the Jews who were
persecuted in Argentina, they chose the former. 
The latter were the same as those Jews who, in Israel, had opposed the
occupation of the Palestinian territories and later the war in Lebanon. That
was why the ‘Jewish State’ didn’t lift a finger to help them.  By way of contrast, the
campaign to ‘free’ Soviet Jews was accompanied by a massive Zionist publicity campaign
internationally. Soviet Jews represented potential settlers.  Jewish opponents of the Junta were potential
critics and activists.
Sofia Epelbaum, mother of three desaparecidos and one of the leaders of the
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, accused Daia [the Argentinian equivalent of the Board of Deputies of Jews] of silence and extreme caution
towards cases of arrests and disappearances of Jews.  In sharp contrast, the paper Nueva Presenda
expressed its support for the cause of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
including the Jewish desperados. Daia
even tried to improve the image of Argentina abroad, “particularly in the USA”.
[Mario Sznajder and Luis Roniger, FromArgentina to Israel: Escape, Evacuation and Exile, Journal of Latin
American Studies, p.356, Vol. 37, No. 2 (May, 2005) Cambridge University Press.
the fall of the Junta, Amia (the Buenos Aires Zionist communal organisation) held
its 90th anniversary celebration:

A group of women whose children disappeared during the Argentine
military regimes crackdown on Left-wing opponents shouted ‘Nazi-Nazi’ at those
attending the Congress here of Amia, the central Ashkenazi community of Buenos

The protestors claimed that Israel, Amia and Daia- the
political representative body of Argentine Jewry- had done nothing to help the
‘desaparecidos’ (disappeared ones)… 

The guest of honour was Mr Itzhak Navon, formerly President
of Israel. The mothers attempted to prevent his entrance to the Conference as
well as that of the Israeli Ambassador to Argentina.[Bitter Protest by Grieving Mothers’, Jewish Chronicle, 23 March

The Israeli state maintained close relations
with the military dictatorship in Argentina. Despite the Junta’s anti-Semitism,
relations between the two countries flourished, first during the Israeli Labour
government of Yitzhak Rabin and subsequently under the Likud administration
of Menachem
.[ Rein & Davidi, “Exile of the World” (2010),
pp. 6–8].
Below is an article in Ha’aretz about the continued failure of Israel’s
leaders to disclose the truth about the collaboration of Zionism with
Argentina’s neo-Nazi leaders, which is but an echo of the collaboration with
What happened in Argentina is a demonstration that Israel is no refuge
from anti-Semitism.  An anti-Semitic
regime is likely to be a semi-fascist one and thus, like Argentina under the
Military Junta, a good friend of Israel. 
In the event of such a regime arising, it will target left-wing Jews,
precisely the ones that Israel will not wish to help.
As the late Yossi Sarid MK of the left-Zionist Meretz described it:  ‘the government of Israel never once lifted a
finger and co-operated with the Argentine murderers because of their interest
in arms deals….In Argentina, Israel sold even the Jews for the price of its
immediate interests.’
[ “Yes, I Accuse,” Ha’aretz, 31 August 1989, p. 7
[Hebrew]; MK Yair Tzaban in Divrei Ha-Knesset, 29 June 1983, pp. 2810-2812

Argentine-Israelis Urge Israel to Disclose Past Junta Ties

Israel aided the
military regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, including by providing
arms. Argentine Jews who immigrated to Israel are demanding the release of
documents on these ties.
Gili Cohen Mar 21,
There are wounds
that do not heal. Forty years after the coup that ushered in a brutal,
seven-year military dictatorship in Argentina, 12 Israelis who immigrated from
that country are demanding that Jerusalem release documents on its ties with
the junta.
Most members of the
group lived in Argentina when the junta was in power, from March 1976 to
December 1983, and some of them lost family members in the “Dirty War.” But
according to one member of the group, Jessica Nevo, 54, “It was only when we
came here, to Israel, that we began to read in the foreign press what was
happening there, in Argentina. We didn’t know there were torture camps below
the military bases. I learned about the defense ties with Israel only
Eitay Mack, an
Israeli lawyer who campaigns for transparency about the country’s defense
exports, has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with Israel’s defense
and foreign ministries on behalf of the group. It demands the full disclosure
of ties with the junta: arms sales, military installations built and operated
by the state or Israeli companies and correspondence about Jewish political
activists who were persecuted, detained or who disappeared during the junta
Even now, many of
the Jews who lived through the period ask whether Israel did enough to rescue
young Jews who were identified with leftist movements in Argentina and
persecuted by the regime.
 “The aim is for us who live here — Israeli
citizens who have chosen to be here and whose family members were murdered
there — to feel that if we didn’t do all we could have done at the time, at
least we will atone for what happened and we will do everything to bring the
truth to light,” says journalist Shlomo Slutzky, 59, who immigrated to Israel
from Argentina a few weeks after the coup and is one of the group’s leaders.
Nevo, a Bar-Ilan
sociologist and feminist peace activist, immigrated from Buenos Aires in 1978,
at age 16. She says her family was harmed by the regime both directly and
indirectly: One member of the group is Francisco Tolchinsky, a relative who
came to Israel with his siblings after their parents were murdered by the
junta. In the FOI request, he noted that while he has little hope of learning
more about his parents, he hopes the information can contribute to a fuller
understanding of that dark time.

 “I believe [our request] has moral
significance. It could be old-fashioned but I think there’s a place for such
things, so we can tell our children and grandchildren that we did something,”
says Slutzky, one of whose relatives is among the “disappeared.”

 “We want to know what happened to [him] — was
Israel informed of his disappearance, was Israel asked to intervene in his behalf?
Did they do anything? Maybe Israel did more than it’s ready to say, but this
too must beknown,
” Slutzky says.
Nevo believes the
truth will come out, even if their petition is denied. She says their FOI
request sets a precedent, after which “it will be impossible to continue to use
the ‘security’ mantra to hide the Israeli connection
” to the junta, adding,
security is also knowing what happened there.”
An estimated 30,000
people disappeared in the Dirty War, among them 2,000 Jews. The junta operated
over 300 illegal detention sites. Torture was routine, including beatings,
electric shocks and sexual assault.
Jessica Nevo, a member of the group that filed the freedom of information request.Moti Milrod
News of Israel’s
ties to the junta is increasingly coming to light. In 2012 Argentina’s largest
newspaper, Clarin, reported on retired Argentine pilots and military figures
who testified that in 1982 they secretly flew to Israel, where they met with
representatives from the military and defense manufacturers and returned with
their plane loaded with light arms, mortars, air-to-air missiles and anti-tank
According to Hernan
Dobry’s book “Operation Israel: The Rearming of Argentina During the
Dictatorship 1976-1983,” the weapons were meant for use in Argentina’s war
against Britain (Falklands/Malvinas), and then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin
was motivated primarily by anti-British sentiment. Israel also reportedly sent gas
masks, land mines, radar equipment and tens of thousands of heavy coats for the
war effort.
Testifying before
Congress in 1981, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense said that in the three
years since the U.S. arms embargo on Argentina, Buenos Aires had bought some $2
billion in arms from Israel and European states. Other estimates put Israel’s
total defense exports to the junta at about $700 million.
Mack, the lawyer
who filed the request, says this one is different from his FOI requests over
Israeli defense exports to states such as Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan: This
time the applicants are Israelis with relatives who murdered or disappeared,
who don’t know whether Israel tried to save them or to help the junta.
 “Most of their parents’ generation is old or
dead, and they have many questions. Now is the time to reveal the truth, so
people can get some answers” before they die, Mack says, adding that it’s also
important for Israel to take responsibility and learn from its mistakes.
Also signatory to
the request are Wanda Clara and Marcus Weinstein, of Buenos Aires. They want to
know more about what happened to their son Mauricio, an Israeli citizen who was
abducted in the Dirty War. In an email Marcus Weinstein, a physician, described
street patrols and nighttime arrests and abductions of civilians. After being
tortured, many were shot and killed or thrown out of helicopters into the sea.
Mauricio Weinstein
was 18, a senior in high school. On the evening of April 18, 1978 he was at his
father’s office, near his school, where he planned to sleep because he needed
to go in early the next day.
The soldiers came
to the home as the rest of the family sat down to eat with guests. “They stood
us up against the dining-room wall and took me in a car, with a pistol to my
head, to my office. I was forced to open the door. My son was abducted, I saw
them put him in a car,” Marcus Weinstein wrote, adding that a few of his son’s
classmates were also abducted that night.
 “Several months later, I heard he was in the
El Vesubio camp, which the prisoners called ‘hell.’ In July, apparently, he was
‘transferred,’ that is, killed.”
The Weinsteins
contacted the authorities and also appealed to the local Jewish community and
to Israel. Marcus Weinstein says he felt the Israeli diplomatic representatives
cared little interest about the disappeared Jews, including his son and a
second Israeli citizen. Today he wonders whether it’s possible to understand 38
years “of suffering and memory, without truth or justice.”
The event in Tel Aviv to mark the 40th anniversary of the military coup in Argentina Moti Milrod

Last week, Israel’s
Meretz party and the World Union of Meretz held a memorial in Tel Aviv to mark
the 40th anniversary of the coup in Argentina. It was called “Nunca Mas” (never
again, in Spanish).

The demand for
disclosure is not without its critics in Israel’s Argentine community. Some
fear it will hurt Israel’s international reputation, while others say there’s
no point dwelling in the past. Better, they say, to remember the dead and the
disappeared while focusing on safeguarding democracy and human rights in Israel
and in Argentina.
But others say
those with personal experience have a duty to gather information. “I, who grew
up as a teenager in Argentina, my memory is that it is forbidden to talk, to
voice what you believe,” says Nevo. “This is something that you learn right
away: Don’t say anything, don’t ask anything. The experience of growing up in a
dictatorship has enabled me to recognize the concealed militarism here. I want
answers. I want to know what’s in those documents. I want Israel to give an
In a response, the
Defense Ministry confirmed it had received the FOI request and will attend to
it in the usual manner.

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