BUENOS AIRES — Some 300 people attended a protest rally against Argentine-Iranian co-operation in investigating the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre.
Among the protesters at the Feb. 14 rally, which took place outside the Holocaust Museum in the Argentine capital, were relatives of the survivors of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre. Israeli and Argentine justice authorities blame Iran for the attack.
“We ask Argentine society’s forgiveness for wasting a great privilege that democracy gave us,” Reform Rabbi Sergio Berman, who is a lawmaker, said in a speech at the rally. “We had the first Jewish foreign minister and that is why we say sorry.”
Rabbi Bergman, a member of the Buenos Aires municipal legislature, recommended the venue for the protest and debate. He noted that Iranian leaders deny the Holocaust.
Argentina’s first Jewish foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, on Jan. 27 signed a memorandum with his Iranian counterpart to set up a joint “truth commission,” prompting condemnations from members and leaders of Jewish communities in Latin America and beyond.
Philosopher, poet and writer Santiago Kovadloff mocked the government for the international criticism the pact has drawn. “But our government is not alone,” he said. “Our government is with Iran.”
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has defended the pact as a way to break a long impasse and Timerman said it as a way to promote justice.
Iran has until now resisted appeals by Argentina and Interpol to make available for interrogation top Iranian officials believed to have organized the attack, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds of others.
The Argentine Parliament’s upper house was scheduled to vote Feb. 21 on whether to ratify the memorandum, followed by a vote in the lower house on Feb. 27. Kirchner’s political party enjoys a majority in both chambers and it is likely to pass.
Alberto Nisman, a lawyer representing AMIA, meanwhile filed a criminal complaint with federal authorities on Feb. 14 over a threat he received recently via email warning him to abandon his investigations of the bombings within 24 hours, or risk the well-being of his daughters.
Both the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) issued releases recently denouncing the Argentine-Iranian co-operation pact, saying having Iran on the commission investigating itself amounts to a farce.
CIJA chair David Koschitzky called the pact between the countries “disappointing.”
“It is disturbing to think that any democracy – let alone one that suffered a mass bombing – would hand over its investigative duties to a ‘truth commission’ beyond its borders. That such a commission would be jointly established with the party implicated in the crime is added insult to those who were murdered at AMIA,” he said in a Jan. 31 statement.
“For the victims’ families and for the entire Jewish community of Argentina, this decision is a betrayal of justice that has already been long denied.”
Adding further fuel to the fire, on Feb. 12 Iran denied it would consent to having its defence minister, Ahmed Vahidi, questioned by an Argentine judge about his role in the terrorist attack.
Vahidi, the subject of an international arrest warrant from Interpol in connection with the deadly bombing of the AMIA centre, would be questioned under the framework of the truth commission agreement, according to Timerman.
“The matter of questioning of some of the Iranian officials is a sheer lie,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at a news conference. “It seems that those who are concerned by the actual agreement are spreading such reports.”
Timerman has said that seven Iranians with international arrest warrants against them would be interrogated under the agreement.
“I can assure that he will have to be present when the judge questions them, and he will be,” Timerman said on Jan. 29 during his meeting with relatives of the victims of the AMIA bombing when he was asked about Vahidi.
In a joint Feb. 12 statement, WJC President Ronald Lauder and Latin American Jewish Congress president Jack Terpins said Iran is only interested in “perverting” the cause of justice.
“The memorandum of understanding with Iran undermines the efforts of the Argentine judiciary and of Interpol, whose investigations have clearly established that Iranian nationals conspired in masterminding the worst terrorist attack ever carried out in any South American nation,” they said.
“At the time Iranian leaders, among them the current Defence Minister Vahidi, gave orders to kill as many civilians as possible.
This deal with Iran is an affront to justice. The Iranian government cannot be considered a neutral interlocutor in this affair because its leaders are involved in terrorist activities themselves.”
– With files from Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf