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Report of secret deal to quash AMIA investigation roils community

 
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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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Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv — usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture — as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.

 

Lighting up Africa

Frisch raises money for solar technology with fashion show

What do the students at a New Jersey Jewish high school and 450,000 residents of rural African villages have in common?

Since 2008, the nonprofit agency called Innovation: Africa — iA — has brought Israeli solar technology to provide clean water, drip irrigation, and refrigeration to villagers in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. And for the last three years, this UN-award winning program has been a focal point for the Frisch School in Paramus.

An African Encounter Night and Africa-themed fashion show held last month exposed students and parents to iA’s work and raised another $3,300 toward Frisch’s goal of contributing $10,000 to light up a sister school in East Africa using solar panels.

“The fact that Frisch has decided to educate children on wider global issues is remarkable and demonstrates a break from the norm,” said Emma Goldman, Innovation: Africa’s outreach coordinator.

 

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According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

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Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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