19 and 20th Century Origins of Ant-Semitism During the Guerra Sucia in Argentina
On the morning of December 7, 2017, a federal judge in Buenos Aires requested an arrest warrant for ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for treason in masking Iran’s role in the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), a pillar organization of Argentine Jewish life, that killed 85 people on July 18, 1994. This bombing remains the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina, home to Latin America’s largest Jewish community. To Argentine Jews, it was the harsh climax of over a century of anti-Semitic xenophobia, discrimination, and animosity ever-present between the lines of political and social discourse. Before AMIA, the most recent manifestation of anti-Jewish injustice occurred during the Guerra Sucia not 20 years prior.
The Guerra Sucia, also known as the Progress of National Reorganization or the Proceso, was executed by a junta from 1976 to 1983 that harbored suspicions of left-wing political opponents. It began by ousting and replacing President Isabel Martínez de Perón with Lieutenant General Jorge Rafaél Videla. Videla suspended the constitution and instituted the Statue for the Progress of National Reorganization, consolidating all legislative, judicial, and executive powers. Essential to the regime was the Doctrine of National Security, which defined communism as the enemy of the homeland, reflecting contemporary Cold War sentiment. The Argentine military dictatorship terrorized its citizens with kidnappings, torture, and murder. The total number of civilian desaparecidos is believed to exceed 30,000. 
Estimates of the proportion of Jewish to gentile prisoners in junta detention camps range from 8-31% in a country where Jews have never constituted more than 2% of the population. Reasons for this distorted statistic may lie in the urban nature of the Argentine Jewish community, the educational and occupational strata to which Jews usually belong, and Jewish tendencies towards liberalism and social action. Because the junta identified its subversives as liberal, socialist, and highly-educated, a greater proportion of Argentine Jews were perceived as political threats than conservative percentages suggest. Jews’ role in oppositional activities were exaggerated, and subversive qualities were often attributed to a Jewish “character.”
Military officials considered Jews more likely to be subversive. Thus, they were often detained regardless of their political engagement or opinion, even though a large majority of junta prisoners possessed no record of violent opposition. The majority were judged subversive based on their professional occupation or their relation to other identified subversives. Based on witness and personal testimonies from detention camps, the treatment of Jewish prisoners differed from other desaparecidos. Jewish prisoners were tortured more frequently, verbally abused, accused of economic corruption and crimes (a stereotypical Jewish-capitalist and Marxist trope), forced to recite Catholic prayers conducted by a priest under duress, and anti-Semitic slogans were written on their cell walls. Swastikas were routine symbols, and direct references to Adolf Hitler and Nazism were not uncommon amongst the guards.
This “subversion” is a cultural construction and interpretation of human nature, history, and natural identity in which antisemitism, singularly present in Argentina, plays a key role. The junta did not invent this prejudice. An amalgamation of societal fractions contributed to the earlier development of antisemitism that erupted during the Guerra Sucia, including the landed aristocracy, the Catholic Church, trade unions, governmental and anti-governmental groups, and the armed forces that were either infused with anti-Semitic tenets or accumulated such perspectives as Argentina advanced towards the junta.
Jewish immigrants initially settled in Argentina because of a combination of Argentine political impetus, Eastern European persecution, and Jewish philanthropy in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century. The Argentine government’s encouragement of European immigration stemmed from its colonial origins. In 1844, American indigenous communities repulsed Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the 7th president of Argentina, who advocated for their extermination. He believed that incorporating Europeans into Argentine society would enrich its national culture, one in which indigenous participation was impossible. The 8th president, General Julio Argentino Roca, expressed similar opinions in 1879 during his Conquest of the Desert to rid Patagonia of indigenous populations. His objective was to replace native residents with white settlers. Perpetrators of these military massacres saw themselves as heirs to the Spanish legacy of conquest and colonization that had swept the continent centuries prior.
A landowning oligarchy aimed to foster European immigration with the slogan “Civilizar es poblar” of political theorist and diplomat Juan Bautista Alberdi. He claimed that Argentina lacked a sizable population to work its lands, and that Argentines should look to Europe for such workers. The 1853 Argentine constitution reflects this desire for settlers. The preamble reads:
It guarantees freedom of religion, ritual, and expression for Argentine people grounded in the idea that all men of the world can participate in nation building, contradicting the 19th-century massacres executed against indigenous inhabitants.
The origins of antisemitism in Argentina also extend beyond its borders. In the late 19th century, Czar Alexander II began to promote intolerant policies towards Jews whose assimilation into Russian society he had welcomed decades earlier. Suddenly endorsed by the government, antisemitism climaxed in 1881 with the czar’s assassination, spurring pogroms throughout the empire. Having experienced life outside religiously segregated villages, Russian Jews were unable to abandon their hopes of secular assimilation and, unwilling to return to yeshivahs, shtetls, ghettos, or the Pale of Settlement, they searched for alternatives beyond Russia. Mass migrations culminated in approximately 1.5 million Eastern European Jews arriving in the United States before World War I and another 70,000 settling in Argentina.
In 1889, waves of Jewish migrants began arriving in Argentina, also stimulated by the projects of German-Jewish financier and philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch. He wanted to establish a haven for impoverished Jews where they could live Jewish lives free from Russian and Eastern European persecution, pogroms, and ghettos, motives that overlapped with Sarmiento’s desires to populate Argentina with European settlers. Hirsch possessed a romantic idea that Russian Jews could till the soil and achieve freedom only by emigrating to a country whose government was neither autocratic nor anti-Semitic. He founded the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) to aid Jewish immigrants, helping thousands move from Eastern Europe to Argentina from 1889 to 1905, to live in what Argentines called “the desert.” Subsequent Jewish immigrants escaping persecution without the JCA moved to cities, particularly to Buenos Aires.
Between 1870 and 1910, approximately 2.2 million immigrants, mostly Spanish and Italian, settled in Argentina. Mass European immigration provided laborers who contributed to the construction and expansion of railroads, cities, and the export sector prior to World War I. This influx altered the social makeup of Argentina. Traditionally, the country consisted of a landowning elite, a small urban middle sector, a large rural lower class, and an immigrant-based middle class. Suddenly, foreign-born laborers overwhelmingly constituted the new urban proletariat class, as once-industrial workers began to traverse the social structure of Argentina as clerks, merchants, artisans, and tenant farmers. Before 1905, anarchism and socialism were popular amongst the working class, but by 1910, a third ideology attracted many: syndicalism. It sprang from members of the Socialist Party who considered parliamentary activities secondary to union struggle. Syndicalism gained popularity among the working class and inspired demonstrations, protests, and organizations that advocated for workers’ rights.
Landowning criollos feared the rapidly increasing worker and immigrant classes and their ideas, growing wealth, and potential electoral strength. The oligarchy reacted by excluding them from voting, repressing unions, and criticizing foreigners for clannishness and cultural inferiority. Pressured by a growing liberal-democratic political rival, the Radical Party (UCR), and the need to unite the upper and middle classes against labor movements, the 1912 oligarchical government of President Roque Sáenz Peña passed a law guaranteeing universal suffrage for male citizens. This cleared the political system for middle-class men, as few lower-class people sought citizenship in the early 20th century.
The newly-enlarged electorate awarded the presidency to UCR candidate leader Hipólito Yrigoyen in 1916. The UCR’s victory did not threaten the oligarchy because it did not challenge its monopoly on landownership, for the radical leaders themselves were an upper-class faction. Yet Yrigoyen garnered populist appeal to the lower and middle classes that disturbed the oligarchy, whose began to veer Right politically. It saw the president as a demagogue and questioned the previously-established electoral reform that had brought him to power.
Events outside early 20th century Argentina also affected the ideology of the oligarchical upper classes. After the Russian Revolution and rise of the Bolshevik Party in 1917, bourgeois Argentines began to consider the new threat of communism a danger to their income, property, and status. News of communist revolutions across Europe alarmed the propertied class, who began to view labor mobilization as evidence of a spreading leftist threat.
With the election of Yrigoyen, the lower-class laborer movement hoped for support from the government for social legislation, improved working conditions, and higher salaries, which manifested in increased public demonstrations. At this time, Argentina was also suffering from a severe economic depression and social discontentment, and urban and rural leaders had begun to protest the financial situation by organizing unions and strikes. Pressured by the upper class who feared a communist revolt, the UCR repressed the demonstrations. Workers’ frustrations erupted into protests that culminated when 2,500 workers from the Pedro Vasena metal factory in Buenos Aires went on strike in December 1918. After less a month, on January 7, 1919, police and strikebreakers clashed with workers, killing a few strikers and wounding many others.
This event galvanized upper-class Argentines and members of the UCR, who already considered the strikers as foreign-dominated anarchists that needed to be crushed and joined the police to confront them. The conflict escalated into a general, country-wide strike that paralyzed Argentina. The national guard summoned to aid the police. Joining government forces was the newly-organized Guardia Blanca, a civilian group of elites that were inspired to defend national institutions. Convinced of an imminent Argentine Bolshevik Revolution, other groups of middle- and upper-class porteños organized rapidly under the Defensores del Orden, another civilian group that united liberals, oligarchic nationalists, and clerics to implement Argentine pogroms. Attacking working-class neighborhoods, they indiscriminately beat, shot, and arrested thousands of workers from January 10-12, 1919, alongside the guard and police.
The civilian groups, police, and national guard mostly attacked foreign-born workers that “appeared” to be Russian, which was their image of the classic anarchist or socialist. With a fear of communism after World War I, the upper- and middle-class elite nurtured a prejudice against Russian immigrants. Jews were attacked because they were assumed to be Russian, and Russians were assumed to be Bolsheviks. They were considered poisoned by Soviet agents, who were thought to have inspired major uprisings amongst the Argentine working class. As about 80% of these Russian immigrants were Jewish, blame quickly turned anti-Semitic and Jews were accused of harboring communist allegiances outside Argentina. By 1914, many of the 110,000 Jews living in Argentina were Russian, and thus the majority fit such a stereotype. Although leftists of other ethnicities greatly exceeded the actual number of Jewish union members, socialists, anarchists, and later communists, the Russian origins of most Jews led other Argentines to suspect them of harboring radical communist sympathies. A previous incident confirmed these perceptions 10 years prior: a Jewish anarchist killed a federal police chief in 1909, and in response, rightist vigilantes attacked Jewish and working-class neighborhoods in May 1910. By nature of their ancestry and appearance, Jews (specifically Ashkenazi) were thought to be an essential part of the extremist movement, evident by slogans such as, “Out with the foreigners,” and, “Death to the Jews,” and attacks that were called the Caza de los Rusos.
These vigilante groups deliberately attacked workers and Jews in the predominantly-Jewish neighborhoods of Once, Caballito, and Villa Crespo in Buenos Aires, destroying community sites and private property. Disproportionately high numbers of Jews were arrested by the Defensores del Orden that claimed that it had captured the “first Argentine Soviets.” Dubbed La Semana Trágica, this event was a pivotal incident that influenced Argentina’s perceptions of its Jewish population. Pogroms enacted by the police, military, and civilian groups were exactly what so many Eastern European Jews had come to Argentina to escape.
However, anti-communist paranoia and the fear that communists were not the only reasons that Jews were targeted during the Semana Trágica and more generally throughout the country. Anti-Semitic sentiments were already stirring decades before within the Catholic Church. Historically, antisemitism in Argentina is a combination of the rejection of Jewish integration and the demand for compulsory Jewish assimilation. Since the beginning of mass Jewish migrations, Argentines of different ideological orientations questioned whether these new settlers could successfully integrate themselves. Articles published as early as 1881 castigated Baron de Hirsch’s efforts, and the liberalization of immigration policies provoked negative feelings towards Jews. The Church’s xenophobic accusations of the dual loyalty of Jews, or their lack of patriotism for Argentina, and claims that they were not truly Argentine spawned these reactions. This ideology was evident during the Semana Trágica, as the armed forces were joined by “patriotic” citizens emboldened by an “us versus them” mentality. They found their inspiration from the organization of the Jewish community, particularly its group insularity, and by the Zionism of Argentine Jews in the 20th century.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews did not assimilate as quickly as other immigrants. They followed historic patterns of worldwide Judaic diaspora, adapting to Argentine society as a modified, large ghetto arrangement centered around strong internal community institutions that emphasized tradition, education, and solidarity with local and other Jews worldwide. Lingering aspects of Judaism were cultural and fraternal, not religious. Jews did not possess strong religious identity upon their arrival in Argentina, a legacy of their secularism in Eastern Europe, and many shed more extreme religious observances. Eventually, the Jewish population followed the greater trend of urbanization in the early 20th century. Cities such as Buenos Aires saw Jews entering business and professional sectors from previous occupations as artisans, skilled and unskilled workers, peddlers and merchants, effectively raising their social statuses. Community organizations for mutual aid, welfare, and educational, social, ritual, and cultural activity followed, as the state did not provide such services for immigrants. AMIA was and is one of the first and most prominent social organizations of Argentine Jews, which operates in Buenos Aires and is the hub around which most Jewish communities revolve.
The Zionism of the Jewish community inspired further accusations of “dual loyalty.” Gentiles thought that Zionist Jews were unfaithful citizens harboring stronger loyalties to an idea that would become Israel in the mid-20th century: a Jewish homeland. Influential among Central and Eastern European Jews, Zionism is a core aspect of most Jewish communities worldwide. It represents a common destiny for all Jews and serves as a unifier in a more permeant diaspora. Alongside Uganda and Palestine, Argentina was originally intended as a location for the gathering of diasporic communities until Theodor Herzl’s advocacy for a Jewish state in Palestine gained momentum. Because of the secularist nature of European Jewish immigrants, Zionism was and remains the main “religion” of Argentine Jews. The community founded Zionist organizations, such as youth, sports, and fundraising groups, like AMIA.
The Jewish community’s insularity and Zionism strengthened the Church’s existing antisemitism, which influenced Argentine society and politics. As Argentines considered ethnic cleansing a duty inherited as heirs of Spanish rule, Catholicism was also a proudly-inherited legacy of colonization. Latin America was and is one of most powerful stations of the Roman Catholic Church, which monopolizes religious and ideological matters of Argentine national culture and politics. Argentina’s non-secularity is written into the constitution, which defines Catholicism as the official religion and determines that Argentine presidents must be Catholic.
As evidenced by the Patagonia massacres, Catholicism in Argentina had adopted a racist tint. In schools and sermons, anti-ecumenicist priests alluded to Jewish original sin and Jews as Christ-killers. Various Argentine writers throughout the late 19th and early 20th demonstrated an intolerant antisemitism promoted by the Church. In 1891, author Julián Martel published his anti-Semitic novel, La bolsa, which inaugurated a new epoch in Argentine antisemitism. Catholic priests such as Monsignor Gustavo J. Franceschi and Padre Virgilio Filippo held prominent standing within Argentine society and played central roles in stereotyping Jews. Their writings redefined the image of the Jewish community, linking traditional Catholic antisemitism to new styles of racist and pseudo-biological antisemitism. Because of their religious statuses, their perspectives were deemed official and spread quickly through publications and discourse. Many Argentines began to view their reality through an anti-Semitic lens.
With the advent and public adaption of the Church’s antisemitism, Jews found themselves ostracized from many aspects of public life. The combination of external events concerning gentile rejection and complacency caused the strengthening of the integral Jewish community that resulted in a parochial disinterest in political and social events. Further political and social ostracism turned many Jews towards Zionism, and a select group of intellectuals turned to Marxism to express their frustration with such prejudices. However, by no means were all Argentine Jews Zionists or Marxists. This middle-class minority never truly made an impact on the working class, and a large portion of Jews were also simply indifferent.
In the early 20th century, Catholic ideologies were also adopted by nacionalistas that projected antisemitism into the political realm. Nacionalista ideology originated in the 19th century during the Patagonian genocides as a fusion of liberalism and totalitarianism. These early 20th-century nationalists lauded the cleansing campaigns as advancements for the white occupation of America, the spread of Christianity, and the establishment of European culture. They considered settlers and workers of the land to be “true” Argentines whose antitheses were “foreign” nomads: Indians and leftist-intellectuals, including immigrant Jews, in cosmopolitan cities. Such sentiments were not sudden. In 1881, La Nación newspaper published an article lambasting the inability of certain European immigrants to assimilate into Argentine society because they represented “homogenous elements” capable of decomposing society: the Jews.
Nacionalismo found its justification in anti-communist paranoia, disdain for political and social difference that would dilute Argentina’s national identity, and an emphasis on excessive national legitimacy. Intellectuals asserted that Argentina needed a new brand of nationalism. Such ideas contrasted with the country’s original image as an inclusive society that welcomed immigrants to one of exclusion. In the 1920s, Argentine nacionalismo was not yet fascist, but nacionalistas began to consider Argentina a purely Catholic, anti-communist, and anti-liberal country, and thus anti-Jewish. Politicians and intellectuals began to question the benefit of the inclusive enlightenment ideas of 19th-century Argentina. For them, an Argentina based on the 1853 constitution would be filled with foreign, undeserving traitors, and thus the country required a dictatorial form of government to bar outside influences and consolidate the identity and autonomy of the homeland. Argentina had never had such a regime, but this was no matter. These new nationalists considered themselves true revolutionaries. Fascist ideology began to appropriate the symptoms of nationalism and denied liberalism altogether.
One of the first advocates for this new ideology was writer Leopoldo Lugones, who is considered the father of fascist Argentine nationalism. He scorned liberal democracy and reformist socialism and advocated that societal militarization and industrial modernization under a corporate state were remedies for liberalism and anarchic populism. With the emergence of European fascism in the early 1920s, Lugones announced his confidence in dictatorships, his “faith in the sword,” and the Argentine military, whom he considered superior to lay people and a central political power. He justified military force, however violent, for eliminating internal communist enemies to prevent Argentina from becoming a Soviet colony.
Lugones was not alone. The mid-1920s saw the rise of young militants who founded publications like La Nueva República that advocated for a revolutionary dictatorship against democracy. They defined the Argentine population as an exclusive Catholic priori and associated “otherness” with artifice and being anti-Argentina. This xenophobia and ultra-nationalism fostered accusations that the fundamental foreignness of immigrants, especially Jews, caused dual-loyalties. The Argentine Patriotic League was established in the 1920s as the first right-wing parliamentary force, linked to the UCR, police, army, aristocracy, and Church. As a civil guard against workers’ mobilizations, it viewed nationalism as key to social harmony.
Antisemitism became a component of early nacionalismo, which merged with its anti-liberal, anti-democratic, and anti-communist stance, stemming from the rise of Spanish, Italian, and German fascist dictatorships. Writer Julio Irazusta believed that these dictatorships, unlike democracy, promoted respect and dignity. Nationalists fantasized about authoritarian governments decided by electoral majorities, such as those of Mussolini and Hitler. They broached Lugones’s claim of legitimate fascism rooted in power and violence, citing Lenin and Mussolini’s suppression of class struggle with authoritarian imposition, and authentic forms of political legitimacy displaced the enlightened popular sovereignty of the past. Individual freedom was no longer a concern. Nacionalistas legitimized dictatorial democracy because it represented the population’s power under one national character, an intrinsic faith in a single figure that stemmed from Argentina’s Catholic roots; democracy, thus, was not Argentine.
Alongside idealized European fascism was the perception of Jews as a dangerous people who required containment. Strong anticommunist and anti-masonic platforms accompanied extreme-right antisemitism that clustered Judaism, masonry, and communism as three ideologies harboring a hatred for Jesus, representing satanic radical nihilism, and linked to rising anti-Yankismo sentiments. Nationalists proposed that a tedious history of exile and diaspora promoted tendencies in Jews that prevented them from ever being patriots. Further arguments asserted that the Jews were usurpers that took advantage of foreign societies to survive.
The political ascendency of nationalist groups coincided with Yrigoyen’s second term. Opposition to his presidency grew as nationalists accused the UCR of pandering to Jews, comparing Argentina’s more liberal immigration policies to foreign governments elsewhere that had limited Jewish immigration or restricted their participation in society. A 1930 coup d’état saw the rise of José Félix Uriburu, who aligned fascist nationalists with his regime as the first Argentine dictator, an admirer of Italian fascism, and a friend of Lugones. Uriburu set precedents for the kidnapping, imprisonment, torture, and execution of anarchists and those that he thought opposed his regime, and is credited for restoring the landed oligarchy to political power.
Uriburu hoped to create a non-deliberative corporate democracy, and after dissolving the national legislature and reforming the constitution and election laws, he held a fraudulent presidential election to ensure the oligarchy’s continued control over Argentine politics. His regime became the vindication for later coups, justifying subsequent violent military hijackings in the name of revolution. This was how nacionalistas began to understand politics: change was to come from within the military. Later 20th-century military coups defined themselves as revolutionaries personifying Argentine identity. Because of the prejudice against Jews as disloyal, plotting immigrants, antisemitism permeated military ranks. Within military academies, curriculums included the xenophobic and anti-Semitic works of figures such as Lugones, Irazusta, and Filippo for the better part of the 20th century through the 1976 junta.
The rise of this brand of nacionalismo planted the seed of antisemitism within Argentine society, culminating in socio-political xenophobia that colored the decades leading up to the Guerra Sucia. Subsequent presidents after Yrigoyen saw the radicalization of nacionalista fascism, and new organizations were defined by profound militarism and Catholicism. Admiration of European fascism during World War II, economic tensions, and the fear of communist upheaval hastened the nacionalista cause, and nacionalismo gained its place as Argentina’s “ideological beacon” in a 1943 military-backed coup lead by General Arturo Rawson. Under this junta, antisemitism was ever-present. The Minister of Justice and Education, Gustavo Adolfo Martínez Zuviría, wrote anti-Semitic novels under the pen name Hugo Wast and, in addition to overseeing the harassment of Argentine Jews and the bombing of synagogues, he passed legislation that banned kosher meat and censored Jewish publications.
General Juan Domingo Perón rose to power in the 1943 junta. As the Minister of Labor, he praised Mussolini and admired fascism, but as Nazi Germany fell in 1945, Perón subdued his political rhetoric to distance himself from the junta’s fascist antisemitism. Presenting himself as anti-fascist and democratic, he was elected president in 1946, cementing his reputation as a disingenuous politician in historical memory. Perón maintained the social reforms he had applied during his term as Minister of Labor, such as improving working conditions, expanding union power, enforcing labor laws, allowing paid holidays and vacations, and restricting conditions under which workers could be fired, yet he also created a racist immigration policy that was anti-Semitic and that only encouraged white, Catholic immigrants from Spain and Italy after World War II. He praised the creation of Israel yet abstained from the United Nations vote, and expressed sympathy for European Jewish refugees yet limited their immigration.
In 1955, after another junta and Perón’s exile to Spain, antisemitism thrived in subsequent regimes. They maintained precarious civil-military balances amid political vacuums and exhibited political indifference derived from active anti-government opposition to Perón’s factions and economic strains. After World War II, these governments saw the rise of fascism again and the bombings of synagogues, the defacement of Jewish property, and the slandering of Jews in publications. Later juntas ruled over a period when anti-Semitic, radical, right, and former fringe groups rose to power without restraint. This allowed the growth of anti-Semitic groups that openly expressed and organized their hatred of Jews. Two of the most prominent organizations were the Arab League and the Falangist Tacuara Nationalist Movement.
The presence of Nazi war criminals also exacerbated antisemitism. Because of a large and wealthy German minority, Argentina was an appealing refuge for ex-Nazis, and Perón and his successors permitted their immigration and protection, facilitated by Germans already living in the country. The capture and extraction of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann in May 1960 aggravated anti-Semitic sentiment. The Argentine government was infuriated because Israeli “Nazi hunters” had broken international law for personal and private grievances of revenge. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir countered that Eichmann’s capture had to be excused considering his crimes and because he had enjoyed years of peace on Argentine soil. Even the subsequent reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Israel could not stem the tide of antisemitism. Fueled by fears of a Judeo-capitalist-communist international conspiracy led by Israel to undermine Argentine sovereignty, theories arose about the “Andina Plan,” which alleged that wealthy Jews were planning to buy land in Patagonia to establish a second Jewish state.
After the capture of Eichmann, a 1966 coup d’état brought General Juan Carlos Onganía to power on the platform of organizing the Argentine economy through austerity and authority, thereby ending civilian democratic government until the end of the Guerra Sucia. Because of the tradition of fascist antisemitism in the army, Onganía’s military dictatorship targeted Jews, removing them from official positions and appointing Catholics from established families to effectively “cleanse” the government. The Tacuara enjoyed free reign, and raids on Plaza Once and Calle Libertad, concentrated areas of Jewish business, followed in July 1966.
Protests after Onganía disbanded Congress and banned all political parties and unions led to Perón’s second presidency in 1973 following the abdication of Héctor José Cámpora and his brief presidency, during which he permitted Perón’s return to Argentina. After Perón died in 1974, his wife and vice president, Isabel Martínez de Perón, who signed a secret pact with the Argentine military and police to hunt down leftist subversives, became president. The 1976 military coup d’état then brought Lieutenant General Jorge Rafaél Videla to power, and thus the Proceso and Guerra Sucia began. This junta permitted fascist groups to locate undesirables and communists within Argentina. Videla used the Gravier Scandal as a springboard for military crusades against Jewish professionals and liberals, beginning with the 1977 persecution, torture, and imprisonment of Jacobo Timerman, the Jewish editor of the newspaper, La Opinión.
Antisemitism tinted the ideology and actions of military dictators, evidenced by the thousands of desaparecidos and human rights violations during the Guerra Sucia that persisted until the end of the junta in 1983. Constitutional rule returned with UCR president Raúl Alfonsín. He restored Jews to government positions and passed a law banning discrimination based on religion, race, or natural origin. However, Alfonsín also enacted laws that made it illegal to prosecute military, security, and police personnel who had committed human rights violations during the military dictatorship and junta while serving under due obedience. Bias against Jews thus continued to permeate the government, and society. The 1994 terrorist bombing of AMIA proved that antisemitism still existed in Argentina. Later investigations deliberated internal collusion, as the president at the time, Carlos Menem, was accused of obstructing justice and destroying potential incriminating evidence that might have revealed his complicity.
When interviewed about local and national antisemitism in the decades after the Guerra Sucia, Argentine Jews would often recite, “Por algo será,” expressing a weariness for enduring discrimination, intolerance, and echoing sentiments of Jews worldwide for whom antisemitism is and has always been a part of life. Such weariness peaked again with the suspicious death of Jewish federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2015. Nisman began investigating the AMIA bombings in 1994, and his findings revealed the connivance and fault of Iran and Hezbollah. The night before he was to testify before lawmakers about his accusations that then-President Kirchner had colluded with Iran to hide its role in the attacks as part of a larger deal to supply Iranian oil to Argentina, he was found dead in his home. The timing of Nisman’s death provoked skepticism as to the veracity of the official declaration of suicide, part of a case that many Argentines call “a national disgrace.” In September 2017, investigators declared Nisman’s death a murder. With Kirchner’s adamant denial of her knowledge of his death, of her collusion with Iran, and her impending arrest for treason, strands of anti-Jewish prejudice that have stained Argentine culture, politics, religion, and the military since the 19th century are beginning to be recognized on an international and judicial scale. In the 21st century, perhaps Argentina may finally be reckoning with its long history of and relationship with antisemitism.
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1. “Los detalles de la resolución de Bonadio y las razones por las que pidió la prisión preventiva para Cristina Kirchner,” La Nación (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Dec. 7, 2017; Daniel Politi, “Judge Seeks Arrest of Ex-President of Argentina on Treason Charges,” New York Times (New York, NY), Dec. 7, 2017.
2. Rita Arditti, “The Grandmothers of the Plaza De Mayo and the Struggle against Impunity in Argentina,” Meridians 3, no. 1 (2002): 19. Guerra Sucia translates to “Dirty War,” and a junta is a military dictatorship.”
4. Ibid., 20. Desaparecido refers to disappeared victims of the military dictatorship who were covertly sequestered, oftentimes never returning home.
5. Edy Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule (1976-1983),” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 4, no. 4 (1989): 488-89. In Argentina in 1980, 245,000 out of 27,862,771 people were Jewish, calculating to less than 1% of the total population.
6. Ibid., 489. In 1989, 80% of Argentine Jews lived in Buenos Aires as opposed to 22% of the general Argentine population that lived in the capital; 40% of desaparecidos were among the highly-educated occupational group, of which university students constituted half (a 1960 Argentine census reported that 11.3% of Jews had a university education versus 2.7% of the general population, and in 1985, 40% of Jews aged 20-24 had a university education).
8. Ibid., 479, 483. Jailers frequently told Jewish prisoners that they were being kept and punished for being Jewish.
9. Ibid., 490.
10. Ibid., 483-85.
11. Ibid., 485-86.
12. Mark J. Osiel, “Constructing Subversion in Argentina’s Dirty War,” Representations 75, no. 1 (Summer, 2001): 119.
13. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, trans. Kathleen Ross (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003), 46, 60, 223.
14. Héctor Hugo Trinchero, “The genocide of indigenous peoples in the formation of the Argentine Nation-State,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 2 (2006): 124.
15. Federico Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 15.
16. Ibid., 16, 24.
17. Graciela Ben-Dror, The Catholic Church and the Jews: Argentina, 1933-1945 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 6; Trinchero, “The genocide of indigenous peoples in the formation of the Argentine Nation-State,” 124. Alberdi’s slogan translates to, “To civilize is to populate.”
18. “Constitución de la Nación Argentina,” Presidencia de la Nación, Ministerio de Cultura, last modified January 11, 2017, https://www.cultura.gob.ar/constitucion-de-la-nacion-argentina_3312/. “[…] with the objective of constituting the national union, ensuring justice, preserving domestic peace, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves, to our posterity, and to all men in the world who wish to dwell on Argentine soil.”
19. Robert Weisbrot. The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979), 39.
21. Ben-Dror, The Catholic Church and the Jews: Argentina, 1933-1945, 7.
22. Amy K. Kaminsky, Argentina: Stories for a Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 125.
23. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 44.
24. Kaminsky, Argentina: Stories for a Nation, 126. The “desert” refers to land outside urban areas like Buenos Aires, such as the pampas.
26. Sandra McGee Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” Journal of Latin American Studies 18, no. 1 (1986): 114.
27. Ibid., 114-15.
28. Ibid., 114.
29. Ibid., 115.
30. Victor A. Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” Jewish Social Studies 73, no. 1 (Winter, 1975), 61. Syndicalism is also known as unionism.
32. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 116. Criollo refers to a person from Spanish Latin America of pure Spanish descent.
36. Ronald C. Newton, “German Nazism and the Origins of Argentine Anti-Semitism,” in The Jewish Diaspora in Latin America: New Studies on History and Literature, ed. David Sheinin and Lois Baer-Barr (New York: Garland, 1996), 208.
37. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 117.
38. Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” 62.
39. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 117.
40. Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” 62.
41. Ibid., 61. Strikers demanded higher wages, that the working day be reduced from 11 to eight hours, a six-day work week, and the rehiring of workers that were fired at the beginning of the strike.
44. Ibid., 62. Guardia Blanca translates to “White Guard.”
45. Ibid., 62-63.
46. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 118; Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” 62-63. Defensores del Oren translates to “Defenders of Order.” A porteño is a person from Buenos Aires.
47. Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” 62.
48. Ibid., 65-66.
49. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 118.
50. Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” 62, 65.
51. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 115.
52. Ibid., 117.
54. Mirelman, “The Semana Trágica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina,” 61-62. The raids were called the “Hunt of the Russians,” as Jews were commonly referred to as “Russians.” Ashkenazi refers to diasporic Jews that reside, resided, or are descended from Jews in and from Central and Eastern European countries.
55. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 118.
57. Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule (1976-1983),” 481.
58. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 117.
59. Victor A. Mirelman, “Attitudes towards Jews in Argentina,” Jewish Social Studies 37, no. 3/4 (Summer – Autumn, 1975); Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina, 42. One such article, “L’immigration juive” appeared in an August 22, 1881 issue of L’Union française.
60. Mirelman, “Attitudes towards Jews in Argentina,” 208.
61. Ben-Dror, The Catholic Church and the Jews: Argentina, 1933-1945, 8.
62. Mauricio J. Dulfano, “Antisemitism in Argentina: Patterns of Jewish Adaption,” Jewish Social Studies 31, no. 2 (April, 1969): 123.
63. Judith Laikin Elkin, “The Argentine Jewish Community in Changing Times,” Jewish Social Studies 48, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 175.
64. Ben-Dror, The Catholic Church and the Jews: Argentina, 1933-1945, 10-11.
65. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina, 70.
66. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 118.
67. Ben-Dror, The Catholic Church and the Jews: Argentina, 1933-1945, 10-11. One such example is the Landsmanshaftn, welfare and financial associations for people coming from the same shtetl.
68. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina, 75, 78. AMIA began as the Hebra Kaddisha, a Jewish burial society founded in 1894, and changed its name in 1940 as it assumed philanthropic, social welfare, and educational programs for the Jewish community.
69. Elkin, “The Argentine Jewish Community in Changing Times,” 180.
70. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina, 87-88. Theodor Herzl is known as the Chozeh HaMedinah (the “Visionary of the State [of Israel]”) and the father of modern political Zionism.
71. Elkin, “The Argentine Jewish Community in Changing Times,” 178.
73. Mirelman, “Attitudes towards Jews in Argentina,” 206.
74. Dulfano, “Antisemitism in Argentina: Patterns of Jewish Adaption,” 136; Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina, 197.
75. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 53.
76. Ibid., 136.
77. Ericka Beckman, “Fiction and Fictitious Capital in Julián Martel’s ‘La Bolsa,’” Hispanic Review 81, no. 1 (Winter, 2013): 21. La bolsa was a response to Argentina’s first large-scale financial meltdown in 1890. It tells the story of Dr. Luis Glow, the son of an English immigrant, who makes a fortune in the stock market and subsequently loses everything when it crashes. Dr. Glow is accompanied by unpalatable associates, such as the German-Jewish banker Filberto von Mackser, one of the most anti-Semitic portrayals of a character in Latin American literature.
78. Newton, “German Nazism and the Origins of Argentine Anti-Semitism”, 209. Franceschi’s journal, Criterio, was subsidized by the German Propaganda Ministry and regularly published anti-Semitic articles written by Argentine and European authors.
79. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 56. Filippio did not view Jews as religious group but as a race. He believed that they endeavored endlessly to maintain their racial purity and sought to infiltrate the Argentine race, which he sought to make pure and homogenous, rendering him a hypocrite to his own desires. On his radio show, he highlighted the stereotypical biological features of Jews, such as large noses and ostentatious, thick dark hair. Filippio also claimed that, based on their history, Jews exhibited a degenerative, agitated, and vile character.
80. Ibid., 53.
82. Dulfano, “Antisemitism in Argentina: Patterns of Jewish Adaption,” 124-25.
83. Ibid., 124.
84. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 13.
85. Ibid., 15.
86. Ibid., 16.
88. Ibid., 18.
90. Ibid., 19.
93. Alberto Spektorowski, “The Ideological Origins of the Right and Left Nationalism in Argentina, 1930-1943,” Journal of Contemporary History 29, no. 1 (Jan., 1994): 160.
94. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 20-21.
96. Ibid., 21.
97. Ibid., 24-25.
98. Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule,” 481.
99. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 18.
101. Ben-Dror, The Catholic Church and the Jews: Argentina, 1933-1945, 2.
102. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 21. In 1931, Irazusta warned against a socialist takeover, expressing his preference for a civil war over a leftist government.
103. Ibid., 22.
105. Ibid., 23.
106. Mirelman, “Attitudes towards Jews in Argentina,” 221-22. Anti-Yankismo was the belief that the United States was a decadent liberal society that was dominated by Jews and Masons whose influence was permeating and poisoning Latin America, specifically Argentina. This was not strictly a leftist view.
107. Deutsch, “The Argentine Right and the Jews,” 127.
110. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 26.
112. Ibid., 31.
115. Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule,” 481.
116. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina., 28-29.
117. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 31; Spektorowski, “The Ideological Origins of the Right and Left Nationalism in Argentina, 1930-1943,” 171-72.
118. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 227-28. Martínez Zuviría’s 1935 book, El Kahal-Oro, relates the plans of world domination instigated by Jews, and was a best-seller during the early and mid-20th century.
119. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 73; Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 228. However, Perón’s ideological links to fascism remained. His rhetoric resembled that of Italian fascists, putting emphasis on a totalitarian state with charismatic leadership where the rights of citizens had less value than their state obligations. He proposed a synthesis of Church and state and nationalizing the Argentine central bank, gas, telephone, and railroad companies.
120. Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War: Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Argentina, 67-68.
121. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 240.
122. Dulfano, “Antisemitism in Argentina: Patters of Jewish Adaption,” 129-30; Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 251. Most incidents went unpunished and under-investigated.
123. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 241.
124. Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule,” 491.
125. Dulfano, “Antisemitism in Argentina: Patters of Jewish Adaption,” 130-31. The objectives of such organizations were to penetrate and expand the labor movement, to spread anti-Jewish sentiment, and to undermine the Jewish community’s internal organization by systematic terror. Anti-Zionist objectives were rooted in the notion that Zionist solidarity appeared as proof of Jewish disloyalty as Argentine citizens.
126. Dulfano, “Antisemitism in Argentina: Patters of Jewish Adaption,” 128-29; Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 250-51. The Arab League was an Axis Power collaborator that viewed Zionism as an international and sinister force intent on enslaving Latin American nationalists. Prior to the 1976 junta, over 550,000 Arabs lived in Argentina. The Arab League vacillated ideologically between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Founded in the 1940s, the Tacuara movement was an infamous violent organization that united fascism and Catholicism as the first ultranationalist organization. Spiritual founder Jesuit Julio Meinvielle charged that Jews were undermining national morality by opposing the union of Church and state. Tacuaras terrorized Jewish sites with bombs.
127. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 241-42.
128. Ibid., 247. This was the perspective of Mario Amadeo, the Argentine ambassador to the United Nations.
129. Ibid., 248.
130. Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule,” 486.
131. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 258.
132. Ibid., 258-59.
133. Antonius C. G. M. Robben, Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2005): 145.
134. Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina: From the Inquisition to Perón, 272. The junta accused financier David Gravier of using his international connections to invest million dollars, extorted through ransom, in the Montoneros, a left-wing terrorist faction. Gravier’s financial empire had actually collapsed after his death in a plane crash in 1976. Because Gravier was the financial partner of La Opinión, the later was accused of collusion and participating in a Jewish-Marxist-Montonero conspiracy. Timerman wrote his memoir, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, about his experience in prison under the junta.
135. Shirley Christian, “Argentina Attacks Tradition of Anti-Semitism,” New York Times (New York, NY), Aug. 21, 1988. Such laws included the Ley de obediencia debida (Law of Due Obedience) in 1886 and the Ley del Punto Final (Full Stop Law) in 1887. Such laws were overturned in 2003.
136. “The AMIA/DAIA Bombing: Terror in Argentina,” Anti-Defamation League, last modified 2017, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/backgrounders/the-amia-daia-bombing-terror-in-argentina.
137. Kaufman, “Jewish Victims of Repression in Argentina Under Military Rule,” 491-92. “There will [always] be something.”
138. Jonathan Gilbert and Simon Romero, “Puzzling Death of Prosecutor Grips Argentina,” New York Times (New York, NY), Jan. 19, 2017.