What Can Be Done to Stop the Rise of anti-Semitism in Argentina?

Many of Argentina's Jews claim that Israel's Foreign Ministry needs to be more involved, but the Israeli government is limited in the actions it can initiate.

"Put away the camera! Are you crazy? Somebody will see you soon and this will end very badly," my Argentine friend burst out at me as I tried to photograph a very visible anti-Israeli graffiti in the main square of Buenos Aires.

The graffiti, which called for the end of the Israeli occupation, was sprayed on the front wall of one of the national museums.

"Skinheads are everywhere and they are simply looking for someone to hassle," said my friend Lionel, a young Jew who works as a computer programmer.

The fear I noticed in his eyes at that moment gave me some food for thought with regard to Argentina's true identity, that unrevealed to the average Israeli backpacker.

The Israeli traveler, usually just having finished army service and looking for a carefree journey in South America or elsewhere, is in fact unknowingly protected by the language barrier and limited social environment (which generally consists mainly of other Israelis).

Such a traveler is thus protected in lack of awareness for extreme incidents that occur right under his nose.

For instance, in the center of Buenos Aires, next to the Estroil youth hostel - a highly popular place among Israelis - the communist movement has sprayed malicious graffiti directed against Israel and against Jews.

Most of the hostel's guests do not feel the threat. Also, while in North America and Europe, anti-Semitic activists disguise their racist messages in anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist political criticism, thosein Argentina do not necessarily attempt to do so. Hatred toward Jews is manifested in very clear statements.

Various organizations from both the extreme right and left have begun incorporating violence in their protests and activities. During the latest celebrations for Israel's 61st anniversary that the Jewish community put together, participants were assaulted by extremists using clubs and knives. The event ended with couple of wounded and few detainees, leading to an obvious new situation. Argentina's Jews are afraid to go out there.

The massive increment in the number of anti-Semitic acts in Argentina occurred immediately after the operation in Gaza started last January. Since then, demonstrations against Israel are habitual, violent acts against Jews, property and institutions are frequent, and graffiti is sprayed all over the city.

"The third bomb is coming" read a message spray-painted near the AMIA building, the umbrella organization for Jewish communities in Argentina. That was in reference to the two horrifying bombings in the Israeli embassy and the AMIA building during the nineties. In addition to this, two synagogues in Buenos Aires were evacuated lately due to bomb alert.

Aldo Donzis, president of DAIA, the political arm of the Jewish community, stresses that "the new wave of anti-Semitism is the worst since democracy has returned to Argentina".

Nonetheless, the authorities claim that there is no real reason for concern and that those extremists are under constant watch.

However, the reputation accumulated by Argentine governments and the judicial system throughout the years as well as the endless foot-dragging in the investigation of previous terrorist attacks, do not help creating a feeling of security within the Jewish community there.

"Argentina is a country that let its most atrocious murderers walk free," said a 25 year old woman from Buenos Aires, describing well the martial tyranny period of the 70s.

As a result, the Jewish community in Argentina allocates many resources to strengthen the local organizations who are assigned to fight anti-Semitism and support Israel.

Nevertheless, these organizations' influence is insufficient in relation to similar bodies in North America. This derives from funding capabilities, size of the community and political power.

Many of Argentina's Jews claim that Israel's Foreign Ministry needs to be more involved, but the Israeli government is limited in the actions it can initiate.

Therefore, the latter should focus on continuous support of the independent organizations. These operate admirably in countries where the challenge is enormous, but suffer from a strategic flaw that derives from their own work method. For the most part, they operate where donors are located, rather than where urgent problems exist.

Every Jewish donor is interested, before anything else, in improving Israel's image and battling anti-Semitism in his own surroundings. Maybe now, when there is a new Information and Diaspora Minister in the current Israeli government, a satisfying solution to these challenges can be found.

The author is a student at Tel Aviv University and volunteers with the international education organization for Israel - StandWithUs