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Argentine Jewish community jobs’ program wins praise

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Rarely if ever had an Argentinean president praised work done by the Jewish community in front of so many people.

An employment program launched more than 35 years ago by AMIA, the main Jewish community organization in Argentina, has been a godsend for thousands of Argentineans — and like most of AMIA’s programs, the beneficiaries haven’t just been Jews.

“AMIA is a formidable ally of this government, and AMIA’s Employment Network is an honor for all of Argentineans,” President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner told an audience of 800 earlier this month at the annual fund-raising dinner for the program at the Buenos Aires Hilton Hotel.

The Employment Network, now Argentina’s largest, started in 1974 as part of AMIA’s Social Service Department to help unemployed Jews looking for jobs and provide a free hiring service for Jewish-owned businesses seeking personnel.

During the Argentinean economic crisis of the late 1990s, the program grew rapidly and widened the range of beneficiaries to non-Jews. It also became vital during the economic crisis of 2001, when Argentina experienced an unemployment rate above 25 percent and an estimated 40 percent of the country fell below the poverty line.

“You don’t have to be a member of the Jewish community to benefit from the services,” said Pablo Devita, who found a job through the network. “This is something highly remarkable.”

The program’s work during the 2001 economic crisis was supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, which helped enlarge its jobs network with a budget of approximately $3.5 million. Half is provided by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund and the rest is financed by AMIA.

Between 2002 and 2008, 16,000 placements were made at more than 9,000 companies. The Employment Network now has 10 offices throughout Argentina and an estimated budget of $1 million for this year.

In addition, it works with companies and nongovernmental organizations on joint actions to help the unemployed.

Juan Heredia was one of them. He lost his job when his security doors company Pentagono downsized, and turned to the Employment Network for a course in facilities and electricity appliance. Eventually he landed a job as chief of maintenance in a major community center called the Hurlingham Club, in the facilities areas.

“We are not Jews and they never asked us if we were,” Heredia’s wife, Silvina, told JTA, adding that “I am very grateful to the job service of the Jewish community.”

Heredia lost 46 pounds because of the depression he fell into during his two years without a job.

“Juan not only regained self-confidence but also thanks to this new job, we were able to keep our house,” Silvina said.

Some 10,000 people a year now use the network’s free services and workshops, and about 2,000 find a job through the service — on average nine a day. The Employment Network has a database of more than 600,000 job seekers.

Within the Employment Network, the Subsidized Employment Program is one of the more unusual initiatives. It matches unemployed people who have registered in AMIA’s database with companies that are looking to hire. The program subsidizes 30 percent of the new employee’s salary for the first six months and covers the cost of recruitment.

AMIA provides a team of expert interviewers who assess the profiles of candidates according to companies’ needs. The team presents its choices to the companies and based on the information, the companies decide which candidate suits them best. “They have the final say,” said Veronica Albajari, the program’s leader.

Since 2004, some 1,500 people who have come to AMIA asking for social assistance and food have ended up also finding a job through the program. For those in need that were offered a job and rejected it, AMIA discontinued the social assistance.

The Employment Network has become a model for employment agencies, the director of AMIA’s Employment Department, Ernesto Tocker, told JTA.

“We became a role model in terms of performance, services offered to both companies and candidates, and work efficiency of care, referral, and job placement,” he said.

The executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who received an award from AMIA in recognition of AJC’s support for the Jewish community in Argentina, echoed that sentiment, saying it’s an interesting model for agencies in the United States.

“I came here only for one day, only for this event, because it is very important for me to support the Argentinean Jews and to also express our admiration for this employment program,” Harris told JTA. “We stood here in bad and good times, and we will stand here in the future.”

As a sign of the importance of the program to Argentina’s economy, the fund-raising dinner drew not only President Kirchner but the ministers of justice, education, foreign affairs, and labor. Also on hand were Israeli Ambassador Daniel Gazit and Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor of the unit that is investigating the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

JTA

 
 

Report of secret deal to quash AMIA investigation roils community

_JStandardWorld
Published: 01 April 2011
image
The bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, killed 85 people. The attack remains unsolved. AMIA

BUENOS AIRES – Consternation is mounting in Argentina and Israel after the leaking of a document purportedly showing that Argentina’s foreign minister secretly offered Iran a deal to quash the investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in exchange for better trade relations.

The Argentinean newspaper Perfil broke the story with a report based on what it said was an Iranian document showing that the foreign minister, Hector Timerman, made the offer to Iran via Syrian intermediaries. According to the paper, opponents of the regime in Tehran leaked the documents.

Until now, Argentina has been one of the most vociferous critics of Iran in all of Latin America, having experienced two deadly terrorist attacks in the 1990s believed to be the work of Iran: the 1994 bombing, which killed 85, and the Israeli Embassy bombing in 1992, which left 29 dead. At last year’s annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of heads of state, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called on Iran to surrender the Iranian officials wanted in connection with the 1994 bombing.

What makes the Timerman story all the more bizarre is that Timerman is Jewish, and that he has refused to respond to the allegations; his office says Timerman won’t dignify the report with a comment.

In the meantime, Timerman’s silence threatens to derail his planned trip to Israel next week, and possibly to harm relations between Argentina and Israel.

“We are awaiting an official response to Argentina’s Foreign Ministry,” a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, told the La Nacion newspaper. “If confirmed, the report would constitute a grave and infinite manifestation of cynicism and dishonor to the dead.”

According to the Perfil newspaper report, written by veteran journalist Pepe Eliaschev, Timerman made his proposal to drop the investigations of the 1992 and 1994 bombings in meetings on Jan. 23 and 24 with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem and President Bashar Assad in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Under the proposed agreement, Argentina would not seek to bring to justice Iran’s current defense minister, Ahmed Vahidi, who is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant by Interpol in connection with the 1994 attack. The perpetrators of the attack were never brought to justice, though an investigation into the attack is still ongoing in Argentina. In exchange for looking the other way, Perfil reported, Argentina’s trade with Iran — estimated at $1.2 billion a year — would rise significantly.

The report comes at a particularly inauspicious time. Aside from Timerman’s upcoming trip to Israel, he was slated to meet with the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, on Wednesday in Buenos Aires. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Iran’s most stalwart friend in Latin America, is also in Argentina this week to sign new trade agreements with Argentina’s president.

The report has touched on raw nerves in the Argentinean Jewish community regarding the still-unsolved attack and prompted heated debate over whether or not it is true.

Sergio Widder, the Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged the Argentine government to establish a special investigation unit for the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing, just as it has done for the AMIA attack.

However, AMIA’s president, Guillermo Borger, is defending Timerman.

“I talked yesterday with the Foreign Minister Timerman, and he assured me that this information is not true — and more than that, he told me that it is so ridiculous that he can’t reply to this accusation,” Borger told JTA in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he had gone to attend the annual conference of the Latin American Jewish Congress.

Claudio Avruj, former executive director of the political umbrella organization of Argentine Jewry, the DAIA, asked why AMIA’s president was rebutting the Perfil article rather than Timerman himself.

Alberto Nissman, the chief prosecutor in the AMIA bombing case, expressed incredulity about the Perfil article.

“I can’t trust in this internal document of Iran, and it is incredible that Perfil published it,” he said. “Even if there is an agreement, nobody will stop me” from bringing the perpetrators to justice. Nissman promised that this year would show more progress in his investigation than the last three years combined, with more evidence of the involvement of Iranian officials in the 1994 attack.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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