Sunday, April 25, 2010

Country profile #1: Argentina

In Numbers:
• 19th century and before: European and Mediterranean businesspeople arrived in Argentina, forming the first Jewish community in Buenos Aires in 1862. As with the marranos (Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews) from previous centuries, these assimilated into Argentinean culture and Catholicism. Starting in 1881, after the pogroms in Russia and Romania, several thousands of Jews immigrated to Argentina.
• 1906-1912: 13,000 new Jewish immigrants per year (mostly European, but also some Moroccans and Turks.)
• 1920: there were more than 150,000 Jews in Argentina.
• 1930s and early 1940s: Argentina was inhospitable to the Jews before the Holocaust. It is estimated that 30,000-50,000 of Jews arrived from Europe by 1943, many of them illegally.
• 1940s and 1950s: Jewish immigration from the Middle East.
• 1950: there were 310,000-320,000 Jews in Argentina (historical peak.)
• 1976-1983: about 1,000 Jews disappeared during the Dirty War. As a result of the war, about a million Jews left Argentina. Many returned when the war was over and the rest remained abroad.
• 1948-2001: approximately 50,000 Argentinean Jews made Aliyah (immigration to Israel)
• Early 2000s: severe economic crisis in 2001 caused several thousands of Jews to leave Argentina. Many of these emigrants are now returning to Argentina.
• Current population is estimated at 184,500, making it the largest Jewish community in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world (1.4% of world Jewry.) 0.5% of the general Argentinean population is Jewish (American Jewish Year Book, 2006)

The Historical Situation:
• Before World War I: anti-Semitism was rare in Argentina.
• 1918-1930: following the Russian revolution, anti-Semitism rose due to anti-revolutionary feelings. On January 7-13, 1919, there was even a pogrom against the Jews, who suffered from physical beatings and damages to their property.
• 1946-1955: Juan Peron was elected president. On the one hand, Peron was good to the Jews as he expressed recognition for their rights and established relations with Israel in 1949. On the other hand, he was a Nazi sympathizer who gave refuge to Nazi war criminals, making Argentina a safe-haven for Nazis. At the same time, he halted Jewish immigration to Argentina. After a military coup overthrew Peron from power in 1955, a new wave of anti-Semitism began.
• 1960: Israeli agents abducted the notorious Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, in Buenos Aires. His trial the following year provoked new anti-Semitism in Argentina.
• 1976-1983: Argentina was under military rule. Out of the 9,000 disappeared people during the Dirty War, 1,000 were Jews. After democracy was restored in Argentina, anti-Semitism declined and the Jews were placed in many high government positions.
• 1988: the Argentinean parliament passed a new law against racism and anti-Semitism.
• 1989-1999: under Carlos Menem's leadership, many Jews were appointed to his government and relations with Israel were quite positive. Several serious anti-Semitic incidents happened while he was president. The most notorious of these were the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 (32 people were killed) and of the Jewish community headquarters (AMIA) in 1994. The latter killed 87 people and wounded 100 others. A Hizbollah suicide bomber was responsible for the operation, allegedly with vast support from Iran (which naturally denies its involvement). Carlos Menem and some others are currently undergoing trial for alerting Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul, who was behind the AMIA bombing, and for covering significant evidence.

The Community Today:
There are fewer than 200,000 Jews in Argentina, of which 90% live in Buenos Aires and the rest in cities such as Rosario, Cordoba and Santa Fe.
The community's institutions and individuals were deeply affected by the Argentinean economic crisis earlier this decade. About one quarter of the Jews in Argentina live below the poverty line and the AMIA community center (the one that was bombed in 1994 and constructed right after) is now trying to repay a large millionaire debt.
The DAIA (Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas) is the political arm of the Jewish community. Buenos Aires has several synagogues: 50 Orthodox, 21 Conservative and a few reform. Argentina has more than 70 Jewish educational institutions of all types, and in Buenos Aires, 17,000 Jewish children study in the Jewish educational system.


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