Jewish Tours

Buenos Aires, Argentina


ARGENTINA, South American Federal Republic, general population (2004) 39,150,000; Jewish population 190,000.


Relations with Israel

Argentina has always had a significant place in Israel's foreign policy as a prominent Latin American country and a country with a very large Jewish community. From 1947, when Argentina abstained from voting for the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, relations were marked by steady progress. Argentina recognized Israel on Feb. 14, 1949, and diplomatic missions were established in Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv in August and September 1949, respectively.

Argentina's position varies on a number of issues affecting Israel. In the annually recurrent UN debates on Palestine refugees, Argentina has for years voted with Israel against attempts to appoint a UN property custodian, on the grounds that it would be an unacceptable interference with national sovereignty. Following the Six-Day War, Argentina was in the forefront of the Latin American nations that opposed Soviet and Arab efforts in the Emergency Session of the UN General Assembly to bring about an unconditional evacuation of the Israel-held territories. On the other hand, she has consistently favored the internationalization of Jerusalem, and after the Six-Day War voted against the municipal reunification of the city.

In 1960 the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina caused a temporary crisis in relations, which returned to normal after some months. Commercial treaties exist between the two countries. In the 1960s the trade balance was overwhelmingly in favor of Argentina (due to meat exports that varied from $10 to 15 million a year). The trade balance remained disproportionate also in the 1970s (Israel's imports rose to $17.1 million while exports only reached $1.3 million). The balance changed radically in the 1980s ($42.7 and 35.4 million, respectively) and in the 1990s ($66.7 and 12.3 million). Since 2000 the total scope of bilateral trade was over $100 million a year, with the exception of 2002, when a deep crisis struck the Argentinean economy. The most remarkable year was 2004 with a total of $191.1 million ($136.3 and $54.8 million). Meat continues to be the principal Argentinean export product together with oil and processed food. The main goods exported by Israel are machinery and chemical products.

In 1957 a cultural exchange agreement was signed. An Israel-Argentina Cultural Institute has been active in Buenos Aires since the 1950s. The Argentina House was established in Jerusalem in 1967 as a result of a private initiative, offering cultural activities to the Israeli public. Technical cooperation between the two countries developed in fields, such as rural planning in semi-arid zones and the uses of water.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations the Argentinean government has recognized the legitimacy of the special relationship between Israel and the Jews of Argentina. As an immigration country that legitimized the special ties of immigrants to their countries of origin, considered their "madre patria" (motherland), Israel was perceived as the madre patria of the Jews, although they had lived in Argentina at least 60 years before the creation of the State of Israel. This recognition was manifested when the government accepted the right of the Israeli ambassador to intervene on behalf of Argentinean Jewry, demanding that expressions of antisemitism should be stopped and prohibited.

After seven years of military rule, Argentina returned to democracy in 1973, with the victory of the Peronist party, which prevailed in free elections. Former President Juan Perón, who had been in exile since 1955, returned to Argentina and after a few months was elected president. During his year in office (he died on July 1974) and in the government headed by his wife, in which the strongman was Minister López Rega, antisemitism became more active in the streets as well as in official discourse. Moreover, López Rega strengthened relations with Arab countries, especially with Libya. He considered the establishment of diplomatic relations with the plo and there were rumors that he was promoting the rupture of diplomatic relations with Israel. In those years of instability Israel protested many times against manifestations of antisemitism and against the anti-Israel policy. After the military coup d'état in March 1976, everyone thought that the generals would establish order in the country, but they abrogated all civil rights and instituted a reign of terror, tolerating no opposition.

Although antisemitism was not an official policy, antisemitic expressions were very frequent, also in the different ranks of the army, the government, and the forces of repression. In these circumstances Israel acted officially against antisemitism and interceded on behalf of incarcerated Jews and those who vanished (kidnapped and killed by the repressors). In the case of the former, the Argentinean government agreed to free from jail more than 55 persons. In the case of those who disappeared, Israel's intervention together with European public opinion and to some extent the U.S., succeeded in getting only one journalist freed – Jacobo Timerman – under condition that he leave for Israel. Unofficially Israel evacuated from Argentina close to 500 Jews in danger and took them in. These activities on the part of the Israeli embassy, together with the Jewish Agency, were made possible because of the special position of Israel. On the one hand, the generals believed, as a part of their antisemitic perception, that through the Israeli embassy they could influence U.S. policy towards Argentina. On the other hand, Israel and officials of the embassy had had good relations since the beginning of the 1970s with military officers in charge of purchasing military equipment in Israel. Some of these officers occupied high posts in the government, like Minister of the Interior General Albano Harguindeguy, or Admiral Emilio Massera, commander-in-chief of the Navy and member of the first junta headed by General Jorge Videla. Although Israel continued to sell military equipment to the military government, the Israeli diplomats in Buenos Aires decided to avoid the use of these special relations as a means of putting diplomatic pressure on Argentina to change its position in matters of special interests for Israel, such as Argentina's consistent support of the Palestinian and Arab positions in the un and in other international arenas, to improve economic and other bilateral relations that were unfavorable to Israel, and to obtain the release of the "vanished" Jews.

In 2000, by the request of the Knesset, the Israeli government established an Inter-Ministerial Commission with the objective of helping the Jewish families of the "vanished" in their demand of the Argentinean government to receive the bodies and to bring to trial those responsible for human rights violations in the dictatorship. This commission, composed of representatives of the Foreign and Justice Ministries and representatives of the public and of the families, presented its conclusions and recommendations in July 2003. As a result of the commission's report, the president of Israel and the government several times presented official requests supporting the demands of the families. Since then, the request to find and identify the bodies of the "vanished" Jews has been made in many meetings of Israeli and Argentinean officials.

In the first democratic government after the military dictatorship (1983–1989) Foreign Minister Caputo's foreign policy attempted to achieve an alliance both with Third World and developed countries at one and the same time. To these ends special attention was paid to the demands of the Arab bloc, while a cold but correct profile was maintained in relations with Israel. This in no way influenced the ideology of the ruling party (UCR), which was traditionally democratic and opposed to the nationalist right-wing groups. In 1992 then ex-president Alfonsín visited Israel, as did the possible radical candidate in the next presidential election, Fernando de la Rúa.

Relations between Argentina and Israel, despite the initial prejudices, were concretely upgraded after Menem came to power in 1989, together with a change toward a pro-North American policy in the international arena. The association between Argentina, Egypt, and Iraq for the construction of the Condor II missile was frozen and then disbanded. The missile was finally destroyed as a result of U.S. government pressure. Official visits at the highest level have increased: in late 1989 Israeli president Chaim Herzog visited Argentina, where he addressed the National Congress; in 1991 Menem became the first Argentine president to visit Israel. Before and after these visits, parliamentary and ministerial missions were exchanged between both countries for discussion of issues of mutual interest.

During the 1990 Persian Gulf crisis, the Argentinean government opposed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and sent two frigates to join the United Nations force that attacked the aggressor. This active position, consistent with the pro-American policy, was a source of controversy in Argentinean political sectors. In other aspects connected with the Middle East, the Alfonsín and Menem governments resisted PLO efforts to open an office in the country in order to obtain diplomatic recognition. In 1985 leaders of the Jewish community appealed to representatives of all the political streams to condemn un General Assembly Resolution 3378 equating "Zionism" with "racism" in the following years, the resolution was condemned by the Argentinean parliament (1990).

Moreover, the Argentinean chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights convening in Durban in 2001 was very active in efforts to moderate anti-Israel resolutions.

The government headed by President Néstor Kirchner, elected in the fifth consecutive democratic elections in 2003, maintained good relations between the two countries. Politically, Argentina is against violent solutions to international conflicts and therefore supports the need of negotiations in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Nevertheless the new administration changed its voting policy in the un and is coming closer to that of the other Latin American countries: Argentinean votes against Israel or sometimes abstains.

In March 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was destroyed in a terrorist attack that left 20 dead and hundreds of injured, including passers-by and neighbors as well as embassy personnel. Following the July 1994 terrorist bombing of the central community building of AMIA, with 85 people killed and hundreds injured, President Menem called Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to express his condolences. After these events President Menem, his ministers, and representatives across almost the entire political, trade union, and intellectual spectrum participated together with tens of thousands of Argentinean citizens in expressing their solidarity with the Jews, in the first case visiting the ruins of the destroyed embassy and in the second in a mass demonstration a few days afterwards in the Plaza Congreso.

The subsequent investigations saw hard words and tensions between various sectors of the security forces, the law courts connected with the cases, politicians, including President Menem, the Israeli embassy, and the Jewish community. The investigations in both cases did not discover who was responsible for the attacks, despite a public trial of ten local suspects for collaboration with foreign terrorists. This trial began in September 2001 and was concluded at the end of 2004 with no convictions. Israel continued to demand that the government find the local perpetrators as well as take the necessary political steps against Iran.

[Haim Avni,

Ignacio Klich /

Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]


H.C. Lea, Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies (1908); B. Lewin, El Judio en la época colonial (1939), includes bibliography; idem, Los judios bajo la inquisición en Hispanoamérica (1960); J. Monin, Los Judíos en la America Española, 1492–1810 (1939). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Ansel, "The Beginnings of the Modern Jewish Community in Argentina, 1852–1891" (Ph.D. dissertation: University of Kansas, 1969); H. Avni, Argentina "Ha-Areẓ ha-Ye'uda" – Mifal ha-Hityashvut shel ha-Baron Hirsch be-Argentina (1973); idem, Argentina and the Jews: A History of Jewish Migration (1991); idem, Yahadut Argentina – Ma'amadah ha-Ḥevrati u-Demutah ha-Irgunit (1972); G. Ben Dror, Católicos, Nazis y judíos. La Iglesia Argentina en tiempos del Tercer Reich, 1933–1945 (2003); M. Braylan and A. Jmelnitzky, Informe sobre antisemitismo en la Argentina 2000–2001 et seq. (2002, 2004); DAIA – Centro de Estudios Sociales, B. Gurevich, Proyecto testimonio – revelaciones de los archivos argentinos sobre la política oficial en la era nazi-fascista, vols. I and II (1998); S. Della Pergola, in: American Jewish Yearbook (2002, 2003); R. Feierstein and S. Sadow, Recreando la cultura judeoargentina – 1894–2001: en el umbral del segundo siglo (2002); I. Herschlag, D. Schers et al., The Social Structure of Latin American Jewry – Final Report (1975); J. Laikin Elkin and G.W. Merkxs (eds.), The Jewish Presence in Latin America (1987); J. Laikin Elkin, The Jews of Latin America (1998); V. Mirelman, Jewish Buenos Aires, 1890–1930: In Search of an Identity (1990); I. Rubel, Las Escuelas Judías Argentinas (1985–1995) – Procesos de evolución y de involución (1998); U.O. Schmelz and S. Della Pergola, Ha-Demografiyah shel ha-Yehudim be-Argentina ve-Yeter Medinot America ha-Latinit (1974); L. Senkman (ed.), El Antisemitismo en la Argentina (1989); idem, Argentina, la Segunda Guerra Mundial y los refugiados indeseables, 1933–1945 (1991); L. Senkman and M. Sznajder (eds.), El legado del autoritarismo (1995); L. Slavsky, La espada encendida – Un estudio sobre la muerte y la entidad étnica en el judaísmo (1993); S. Schenkolewski-Kroll, Ha-Tenu'ah ha-Ẓiyyonit ve-ha-Miflagot ha-Ẓiyyoniot be-Argentina, 1935–1948 (1996); Tel Aviv University, S. Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, Anti-Semitism Worldwide (yearbook); E. Zadoff, Historia de la Educación Judía en Buenos Aires 1935–1957 (1994); idem, A Century of Argentinean Jewry: In Search of a New Model of National Identity (2000). WEBSITES: news.daia.org.ar; www.amia.org.ar; www.mfa.gov.il/desaparecidos.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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