Argentina's Former President Kirchner Is Making a Comeback, and the Jewish Community Is Split

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is accused of obstructing the probe into the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center, but Jewish voters say they vote as Argentinians above all

Argentina's former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner greets supporters at a campaign rally in Santa Rosa, Argentina, October 17, 2019.
Natacha Pisarenko,AP

Argentines head to the polls for the final round of presidential elections later this month. The two candidates are the incumbent, Mauricio Macri — the first conservative elected in the South American nation in several decades — and Alberto Fernandez, a left-wing populist.

Things are not looking good for Macri — in the first round of voting, Fernandez won 47 percent to Macri’s 32 percent.

The challenger brings a recognizable name to his ticket: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s president for two terms, is his vice presidential running mate.

Kirchner led Argentina from 2007 to 2015, but was defeated in the wake of a wave of corruption charges. She was indicted last year on charges that she accepted bribes from construction companies, and investigations into her cases are ongoing.

Kirchner also is accused of obstructing the investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, allegedly carried out by Hezbollah terrorists funded by Iran, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

As a congresswoman in 1999, Kirchner led a new commission to clarify and investigate the case, but during her second term as president — with Hector Timerman, a Jewish-Argentine journalist as her secretary of international affairs — she signed a controversial memorandum with Iran that allowed the accused culprits to be judged within their country. To some, this was a sign that Argentina was criminally complicit with Iran. To others, it was seen as the legal means to bring the case to international grounds.

The matter was complicated further when the Jewish attorney investigating the case, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment in 2015, one day before he was set to present his findings. Whether his death was a murder or suicide is a matter that still splits Argentine public opinion along ideological lines. (An official Argentine report has determined it was murder.)

It all might seem like grounds to turn most of Argentina’s Jewish community against Kirchner — but its views on the ex-president aren’t that simple.

“Considering that we are less than 0.7 percent of the population, Jews in the Macri and the Kirchner governments are both overrepresented,” said Elbaum, who is also founder of Llamamiento Judío (Jewish Calling), a progressive Jewish movement with 7,000 members that is ideologically close to Peronism and Kirchnerism.

All of those interviewed agreed that Jewish or Israeli-centered themes, both inside and outside the community, were of secondary concern for Jewish and non-Jewish voters, and those issues did not feature prominently in either candidate’s campaigns.

That might be because despite the fact that the two largest attacks ever on Jewish institutions in Latin America happened in Argentina (two years before the AMIA attack, 20 people died and more than 200 were injured in an attack on the Israeli Embassy), Jews today feel safe there.

“Fortunately, daily anti-Semitism is not an issue in Argentina right now,” Krengel said. “Pointing out whether someone is a Jew is seen by most of the population as something denigrating. Argentinian Jews will vote as Argentinians, above all.”