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Justice, Justice We Must Pursue in Argentine Bombing Case

July 9, 2009 By:
Marcia Bronstein
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Fifteen years after a car bomb struck the the hub of Jewish life in Argentina, more questions than answers remain.

On July 18, 1994, a busy Monday morning, a white van approached the Argentine Israelite Mutual Aid Association Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and detonated its heavy cargo. The explosion completely destroyed the building. When it was over, 85 were killed and some 300 more injured.

The AMIA building housed a myriad of organizations -- not unlike our Jewish Community Services building in Philadelphia.

High unemployment plagued the country at the time, and hundreds of young job-seekers were in the building to fill out forms at the job exchange and inquire about potential employment postings that morning. Hundreds of Jewish communal professionals were at their desks ready to tackle the plethora of needs, from food to housing to jobs.

While Argentina had seen its share of terror in the late 1960s and '70s -- and the Israeli Embassy there had been bombed two years earlier-- the AMIA bombing was something new: a terror attack aimed at killing as many innocent people as possible.

New activity surrounding the case provides hope that justice may still be served. In May, the Argentina Supreme Court ordered the reopening of the investigation.

Several local Argentines have been implicated in the bombing, but the attack's planners and sponsors, who reportedly include senior Iranian and Hezbollah officials, have never been brought to justice.

Argentine authorities have looked into a possible cover-up in the bombing investigation. And the Argentine government now admits that previous administrations mishandled the initial investigation and may have damaged key evidence in the case.

The huge explosion devastated not only the lives of those in the Argentine Jewish community, but was also felt deeply throughout the global Jewish community. Striking at the heart of Argentina's central Jewish institutions, it was especially tough for those of us who work or volunteer in the Jewish communal world -- raise funds for Jewish causes, chair committees, send our kids to day schools or synagogue schools, and participate in social-action projects -- because we were the intended targets of the attack.

At the time, I had just been selected to participate in an executive development program run by the United Jewish Appeal. I chose from a group of destinations to travel to Argentina. My small group came face to face with the aftermath of the AMIA bombing.

The three weeks I spent with the leadership of AMIA and colleagues from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee -- focusing on the economic situation and participating in rallies calling for justice -- reinforced the central Jewish value of Kol Yisrael, that all Jews are responsible for one another. We know too well that if any part of our community is wounded, then we are all in pain.

We, as Jews and United States citizens, must continue to express support for the estimated 250,000 members of the Argentine Jewish community. We must not let this incident linger in the history books without resolution.

As such, we seek a renewed determination in bringing the perpetrators of this terrorism to justice.

And we urge the representatives of our own government to be vigilant in keeping the pressure on Argentina to bring the investigation to its proper and rightful conclusion.

When I was in Buenos Aires 15 years ago, my Argentine Jewish colleagues begged us not to let this issue die.

To them I say: We will not give up.

Marcia Bronstein is the director of development for the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. She also serves as vice president of the Association of Jewish Communal Organization Professionals.

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