Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman accused Israel of giving "ammunition to anti-Semites who accuse Jews of dual loyalty" as part of an exceptionally harsh dressing down of Israel's ambassador Dorit Shavit, sources say.
The incident was sparked by Israel's efforts to obtain explanations about an agreement Argentina and Iran signed around two weeks ago.
The agreement creates a "truth commission" to investigate the 1994 bombing of AMIA, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
When Israel learned of the agreement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the Argentine ambassador for a reprimand, during which the ministry's deputy director general for Latin America, Itzhak Shoham, objected to the deal and demanded explanations.
The Argentines were furious, and in response, Timerman summoned Shavit for a reprimand on January 31.
According to Foreign Ministry sources who saw Shavit's account of the meeting, Timerman was "upset and really angry" that Israel had demanded explanations of the Argentine ambassador. He apparently launched into a long monologue in which he assailed Israel for intervening in Argentina's internal affairs and even charged that such behavior encourages anti-Semitism. Shavit was barely able to utter a word in response, as he cut her off repeatedly, according to sources.
"Israel has no right to demand explanations; we're a sovereign state," Timerman reportedly told her. "Israel doesn't speak in the name of the Jewish people and doesn't represent it. Jews who wanted or want to live in Israel moved there, and they are its citizens; those who live in Argentina are Argentine citizens. The attack was against Argentina, and Israel's desire to be involved in the issue only gives ammunition to anti-Semites who accuse Jews of dual loyalty."
Summoning the Argentine ambassador and then leaking the fact to the media was unacceptable behavior, he apparently continued. "Argentina doesn't summon the Israeli ambassador for explanations. If we wanted to, we could summon you here twice a month to demand explanations about a military operation in Gaza or construction in the settlements. But we don't do that, because we don't want to intervene in your sovereign decisions."
Shavit responded angrily, according to sources. "As the Jewish state, Israel views itself as responsible to some degree for the welfare of [all] Jews and tracks anti-Semitism worldwide," she reportedly told Timerman. "Therefore, it helped Jews leave the Soviet Union, brought Jews from Ethiopia and, at times, also helped Jews in Argentina. You surely know what I'm talking about," she apparently added, referring to Timerman's own family history.
In the 1980s, Timerman's father, himself a Jew, was arrested by the right-wing military junta then running the country because he was a journalist who supported the left. He was held in prison in solitary confinement, but was finally released due to the intervention of the Israeli ambassador to Argentina and his staff - some of whom are today senior Foreign Ministry officials. They reached a secret deal with the junta under which Timerman's father would be allowed to leave the country. He moved to Israel for a few years, but returned to Argentina once the junta fell.
Shavit reportedly stressed that Israel wasn't trying to intervene in Argentina's decisions, but it did want explanations, due to the similarity between the AMIA bombing and an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier. The Argentine police and security agencies believe that Iran and Hezbollah were behind both bombings. Nevertheless, Timerman decided to play dumb, according to sources.
"I don't know if there's any connection between the two attacks," he apparently said. "If Israel has any such information, I ask that you give it to us as a soon as possible."
But despite the angry tone of the meeting, Foreign Ministry officials said it ended with Timerman and Shavit agreeing that both sides should try to lower the flames and continue the discussion via quiet diplomatic channels.