Together yet Apart: Israel
and Argentine Jews
Raanan Rein, Tel Aviv University
Shalom, buenas tardes and good afternoon to you all. I am truly honored by the invitation to deliver this lecture. At first, I was going to devote my talk to a well defined and focused topic, that is the triangular relationship between Israel, Argentina, and Argentine Jews. However, I decided that this keynote address was an appropriate platform for sharing with you some of my thoughts regarding several of the unquestioned assumptions behind much of the research that has been done so far on Latin American Jews. I do not pretend to offer a new paradigm, although I do believe that it is time to encourage new approaches to Latin American Jewish studies. Several of these unchallenged assumptions that I will list in a couple of minutes came to my mind as someone who was trained as a historian of Latin America and not as a historian of the Jewish people. I hope that by bringing them up for discussion and relating some of them to my own research, I will provoke a debate that will continue even after my talk, during dinner, or in the corridors.
Latin American Jewish studies have advanced tremendously in the last two decades. In the mid-1990s, Jeffrey Lesser could still observe critically, in the preface to his Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question, that Latin American historians tended to view the study of Jews as part of Jewish history, while Jewish historians tended “to lump all but the largest numerical [Jewish] communities into the category of 'exotica,' and thus not worthy of careful study.” Less than a decade later, it seems that studying the Jewish experience in this continent is no longer considered exotic.
Much innovative research in this field is the work of scholars who were trained as historians of Latin America. They look at these communities first and foremost as Latin Americans of Jewish origins, part of the ethnic and cultural mosaics, or kaleidoscopes, that constitute Latin American societies, with their hybrid and complex identities. They do not tend to look at the members of these communities as Jews who just happen to live in Latin America. Nor are their studies limited exclusively to the organized Jewish community and its institutional life. Instead, the dynamics of the relations between Jews and non-Jews is explored in a broader way. Research now points to the major role played by Jews in the economic, social, cultural and political life in their respective countries, as well as to what the experience of Jewish minorities in Latin America reveals about other immigrant and ethnic groups, and about the overall character of Latin American societies. From this comparative standpoint, several issues which once seemed unique to Jews and to the attitude of the political authorities towards Jews appear to be not so.
From this brief introduction, some of you might have already guessed at least several of the ten commonly held and inter-related assumptions that I will proceed to present:
1. The idea that Jews are a minority unlike other minorities, therefore when one studies the history of Argentine Jews or Brazilian Jews, one should be familiar with the history of Jews in South Africa or Australia, or any other place, instead of studying the history of the Jewish minority in relation to the history of other minorities such as Arabs, Poles, or Asians in the country of interest. Most studies so far emphasize the notion of Jewish uniqueness and exceptionalism.
2. The idea that trans-national ethnicity is stronger than national identity. Therefore, Jewish solidarity around the world and support for the Jewish state constitute the main ingredients of the identity of Latin American Jews. However, research by several scholars has indicated the primacy of national identity, for instance, the fact that Argentine Jews have always struggled to be "unmistakably Argentine", as Jorge Luis Borges put it in his 1940 introduction to Mester de judería (Poems of Jewry), a collection of poetry by his friend Carlos M. Grunberg.
3. Zionism in Latin America in general, and in Argentina in particular, has been first and foremost about the state of Israel. It seems to me that there is a continued misunderstanding of the nature of Zionism in Latin America, and probably in other countries as well. Being Zionist in Argentina, for example, often has had little to do with the State of Israel. More often, it has been one of the strategies espoused by Jews in order to become Argentines. Like every other immigrant community, Jews in Argentina needed to have their own Madre Patria. Just as the Italians had Italy and the Spaniards had Spain, so Jews had their own imagined Zion, or Israel. This brand of Zionism was about becoming Argentine while staying Jewish, and not moving to Palestine. This was the primary objective of very many Jews and formed part of their efforts to shape new identities and make Argentina a home. I will return to this issue later, but let me add an additional comment here: due to the conquest of the organized community by Zionist political parties in the early 1950s, historiography has tended to devote relatively little attention to non-Zionists in Argentina. Their experiences and efforts to integrate themselves into Argentine society have remained on the margins of the currently dominant or hegemonic narratives of Argentine Jewry.
4. As a Jewish state, Israel has a deep commitment to Diaspora Jews and therefore its interests are always similar or complementary to the interests of Latin American Jews wherever they might be. I will expand on this assumption shortly.
5. The great majority of Latin American Jews are affiliated to local Jewish associations and frameworks. Therefore, there is little sense in wasting time and energy in research on unaffiliated Jews. The term "Jewish community," that we tend to use when discussing one country or another, might in itself be misleading, if it includes only those affiliated with Jewish organizations, synagogues, social clubs, youth movements, etc. What about the other Jews, those that normally constitute the majority in these countries? True, in a way it is easier to research the history of Jews within Jewish organizations, but in so doing, we are in fact ignoring the majority of Jews in these societies. Or, to use the language of this conference, and of a similar one held at Tel Aviv University a few days ago, I believe that one of our duties as historians is to ensure a future for the past memories of those numerous Jews not affiliated to the organized community. Documenting their life stories, and reclaiming the memories of ordinary Jews that have so far been kept hidden from Latin American Jewish historiography in general, and the Argentine one in particular, could provide us with additional lessons on the nature of their respective societies and on the role played by culture and community in historical processes.
6. Anti-Semitism in Latin America is strong and probably stronger than in other regions of the world. This is what Haim Avni alluded to when he wrote of the “overdeveloped focus of research energy [by scholars of Latin American Jewry]: anti-Semitism”. Reading several of the books published on Anti-Semitism in Latin America one might get the wrong impression that life for Jews in the continent was unbearable, a continued nightmare.
7. Jews in Latin America are all white and rich. I will not deal with the issue of color here and the question whether Jews were always considered white in Latin American societies, but I would like to refer to the issue of social classes. To my knowledge, scant research has been done on Argentine Jews of the second half of the 20th century who belonged to the working class. Could it be that they simply do not comply with our celebratory myth of the success of the Jews who moved from Pale to Pampa and quite rapidly became a middle-class community? True, this was the case with very many Argentine Jews, but certainly not all of them. In a recent study I conducted on the second line of Peronist leadership, I was surprised to discover that Jews played an important role in the organized labor movement, and that in the two most important trade unions of the 1940s, the Unión Ferroviaria and the Confederación de Empleados de Comercio, one could find key figures such as Rafael Kogan and David Diskin, both of whom became supporters of Perón. Yet, almost no-one seems to have been interested in them so far.
8. Smaller in number, more traditionalist and less Zionist, Sephardi Jews are not an important part of the story. Being a minority within a minority, their history is supposedly less crucial for our understanding of the Jewish experience in Latin America. Furthermore, as Mollie Lewis emphasized in her paper, scholars have probably exaggerated in their descriptions of the religious and cultural differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, as well as their lack of interaction.
9. Numerically larger communities can teach us more than smaller communities, therefore research should be devoted primarily to the history and culture of Argentinian, Brazilian and Mexican Jews. I believe that Leo Spitzer's Hotel Bolivia has already proven how problematic this assumption is.
10. As far as gender issues are concerned, it seems that most Jewish women we know about in Latin America of the 19th and 20th centuries were either prostitutes or novelists. Although Jewish women have played fundamental roles in Argentina and its Jewish life, still, as Sandra McGee Deutsch emphasized, "Argentine Jewish women are virtually absent from the secondary historical sources. Studying them is vital for its own sake, to recover the voices and tell the untold stories of the unheard half of the Jewish population."
Clearly, recent works by Leo Spitzer, Jeffrey Lesser, Donna Guy, Sandra McGee Deutsch, Adriana Brodsky, José Moya, Lawrence Bell, and Edna Aizenberg, among others, have questioned several of these assumptions, but still, they seem to inform too many studies.
For the past ten years or so, I have been studying the complex triangular relationship between Israel, Argentina and Argentine Jews. In the course of this research, I have emphasized, among other things, that Israel's interests were often at odds with the interests of Argentine Jews; that while sometimes these interests were complementary, at other times they were contradictory. Although the State of Israel defined itself from the very beginning as a Jewish state and declared its commitment to defending the interests of all Jews, the interests of Israeli foreign policy were not always congruent with those of local Jewish communities. The dynamics at each of these levels was different. Moshe Sharett, the first foreign minister of Israel, met Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón in 1953 and expressed his satisfaction at "the existence of a triangular harmony: between the Argentine government and its Jewish citizens; between Argentine Jews and Israel; and between the Argentine government and its Israeli counterpart." In practice, however, the situation naturally was more complex.
Such an argument as to the existence of conflicting interests between Israel and Latin American Jews would have been dismissed as trivial among scholars devoted to Diaspora studies. However, my research has provoked many reactions among scholars of Jewish History, and several of them were upset by what they considered as my ignoring the uniqueness of the Jewish experience, pointing an accusing finger towards the State of Israel, or staining the Zionist record of Argentine Jews. In recent years, at a time that Israeli policies in the occupied territories are being constantly criticized in most countries, it seems that many Jewish historians are less willing to discuss issues which might, in one way or another, question past Israeli policies or the conflicted relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
Since the 1940s, we can distinguish four major historical junctures in which the interests of Israel and those of Argentine Jews were not necessarily complementary: during the regime of the populist president Juan Perón (1946-1955); following the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann in Argentina by agents of the Mossad in May 1960; during the brutal military dictatorship that ruled the country in the years 1976-1983; and following the recent economic crisis, which was accelerated by the political turmoil of December 2001 and the popular revolt that ousted president Fernando de la Rúa. These four historical junctures illustrate the fact that Israel’s interests and those of Argentine Jews were occasionally congruent, but certainly not always. Israel worked in various ways to assist the local Jewish community, and its embassy in Buenos Aires played a central role in the life of the organized community and the development of its policy. When all was said and done, however, Israel operated as a sovereign country and sought to advance specific interests of its own that did not always accord with Argentine Jews’ struggle for equal rights and integration. The view that saw Israel as the core of the entire Jewish world dictated a certain order of priorities for the makers of Israeli foreign policy, even at the expense of specific Jewish communities. In the limited time at my disposal, I will only make a few remarks about each of these crossroads. During the discussion, we will be able to expand on any of them.
Recent scholarship has demonstrated that while president Perón succeeded in cultivating close relations with the state of Israel, he failed in his attempt to mobilize any significant support in the Jewish street. The Jews of Argentina remained hostile to Perón, despite his many efforts to win their hearts. All Perón’s attempts to win Argentine Jews over —for example, by setting up a Peronist Jewish organization (the Organización Israelita Argentina / OIA)—were to no avail. In the aftermath of World War II, as the extent of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe became clear, Argentine Jews, who were mostly of Eastern and Central European origin, were understandably wary of a government that in some respects resembled the defeated Axis regimes. The support Perón had received from nationalist and anti-Semitic groups at the beginning of his career, and the alliance he forged with the Catholic Church in the second half of the 1940s, only reinforced their suspicions. The political identity (generally liberal or left-wing) and class identity (primarily middle-class) of many Jews disposed them to remain aloof from a regime that was developing increasingly authoritarian tendencies and that, moreover, was identified with benefits for the working class.
Perón was well aware that many observers at home and abroad considered his relations with the Jews in his country as a kind of acid test of the character of the regime. Therefore, he did his best to be friendly towards the Jewish community, and in their speeches, both Juan Perón and Eva Perón (Evita) always strongly rejected anti-Semitism.
Interestingly enough, Perón saw no incompatibility between Argentine Jews’ loyalty to their country and their support for Israel, which he considered their “mother country,” just as every other immigrant group in Argentina had a similar “national homeland.” In the same way that the Italians maintained their connection to Italy and the “Gallegos” maintained theirs to Spain, it was natural that the Jews should do the same with their country. In short, Perón’s statements fully legitimized the Argentine Jewish community’s open identification with Zionism and the state of Israel. During Perón’s regime, this double bond that Argentine Jews felt was not considered indicative of “dual loyalties,” as it would be in the 1960s, following the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann. In conversations with Yaacov Tsur, Israel's representative in Buenos Aires, officials of the Argentine administration used the phrase “the Israelite community,” where the Spanish word israelita was applicable to both Jews and Israelis. On one occasion Perón even declared that “an Argentine Jew who does not help Israel is not a good Argentine.”
Here I would like to emphasize again the comparative perspective. One should not forget the importance of ethnicity itself as a tool for political mobilization in Perón’s “New Argentina.” Indeed, Jews were not the only ethnic group that Perón tried to recruit as a community, and his cultivation of Jewish national sentiment in the form of Zionism to curry Jewish political favor actually mirrored his actions towards Argentines of Italian, Spanish, German, and Arab descent as well.
In contrast to the hostility felt by many Argentine Jews towards Perón, Argentina’s relations with the state of Israel were excellent during this period. This was reflected in various ways, including a series of declarations supporting Israel and Zionism, a commercial treaty of great importance for Israel, a series of reciprocal visits, and a cultural agreement.
Perón understood that his efforts to enlist the support of the Jewish community would require him to cultivate relations with the state of Israel. Even more important, he believed that good relations with Israel would help improve Argentina’s relations with the US. Perón – like any other Argentine president since the end of World War II, including the current president, Nestor Kirchner -- had excessive faith in the influence that North American Jews exerted over the media, politicians, and organized labor, and hoped that they would use that influence to change the way in which the US public and Washington decision-makers saw Argentina. Jewish and Israeli representatives naturally had an interest in fostering that belief. This is but one example of how stereotypes that function at one level as signifiers of otherness and a mechanism of exclusion can, at another level, promote acceptance and check anti-Semitism.
Thus, both domestic political considerations and foreign-policy aims concerning Argentina’s international status and its image in Western public opinion led Perón to parade his friendly attitude towards Israel frequently, from the time relations between the two states were established in May 1949 until the collapse of his regime in September 1955.
Yet the good relations that the Israeli ambassador prudently fostered with the Peronist authorities and the OIA gave rise to certain uneasiness among some of the leaders of the organized Jewish community. On one occasion, a delegation of Jewish representatives arrived to scold him for agreeing to participate in an OIA-sponsored assembly at which Perón was to be present. “One after the other the heads of the community advised me not to get too close to Perón, to keep a distance from the person who to them embodied reaction and fascism, and [that] friendly though he might seem to the Jewish community, there was no doubt that he was an anti-Semite.” Tsur responded to such arguments by saying:
For me as representative of a foreign country, General Perón is not the head of the Peronist Party, but the president of the country, to whom I owe respect, and it is not my affair to criticize what he does. Attending a party in Perón’s honor is not appearing in a Peronist act or even deciding between him and his political opponents, but showing respect for the man who heads the state in which the legation operates.
When Perón was ousted in September 1955, many Argentine Jews rejoiced, while Israel had no reason to celebrate.
The disparity between Israel’s interests and those of Argentine Jews was even more notable during the presidency of Arturo Frondizi, leader of the centrist Radical Party, whose democratic credentials and sympathy for the Jewish minority were never in doubt. Frondizi’s victory in 1958 had been welcomed by both the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the leaders of the local Jewish community. And he had not lived in the presidential palace for long before their expectations appeared to have been justified. The Jews of Argentina felt a growing sense of security and well-being, and relations between Jerusalem and Buenos Aires grew closer.
In 1960, Israelis embarked on a series of gestures honoring the approaching 150th anniversary of Argentine independence. A decision was made to send a large delegation of dignitaries to Buenos Aires to take part in the celebrations that were scheduled to culminate on 25 May. The delegation was headed by Abba Eban, then a minister without portfolio. It was during these celebrations that Adolf Eichmann, considered the mastermind of Hitler's "Final Solution," was kidnapped by Israeli Mossad agents.
I will not discuss here the details of the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, following the violation of Argentine sovereignty by supposed "Jewish volunteers". The important point I would like to make is that by the beginning of August, that is in a matter of 8 weeks, the storm had passed. As President Frondizi stressed, the Argentines had “decided to wipe out the incident, and he emphasized in particular economic motives connected with the development of the state. He already sensed a certain aloofness towards Argentina on the part of wealthy Jews around the world, and such an aloofness might disrupt his plans.”
Although Argentina’s relations with Israel returned relatively quickly to their normal course, this was not the case with the feelings and situation of Argentine Jews, whose number at the time was estimated at more than 300,000. The Jews’ personal sense of security had been undermined. The Argentine Jewish community became the target of a wave of anti-Semitic terror and nationalist attacks that, among other things, did their best to cast doubt on the Jewish citizens’ loyalty to the Argentine Republic.
Argentine Jews had experienced mixed feelings when they read that the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann had in fact been captured in their country —happiness and satisfaction that Eichmann had been caught, interlaced with strong anxiety about how the Argentine government and public opinion were likely to react towards Israel and the local Jewish community. In fact, Argentine Jews were both pulled and pressured by Argentine nationalism and by transnational Jewish political and cultural links to Israel. None of the Jewish organizations in Argentina made any public criticism of the kidnapping of Eichmann, and some Jewish public figures even helped resolve the crisis in the relations between the two countries.
Nonetheless, certain circles in the Jewish community were definitely uncomfortable with the way Israel had carried out its operation. Historiography, especially that written by Zionist scholars, preferred to ignore such reactions. According to a representative of the American Jewish Committee in Buenos Aires, the leaders of the community came close to panic in the first days after Eichmann’s capture was reported. They feared that tension between Israel and Argentina would affect the local Jewish community: that there would be direct anti-Semitic attacks and Argentine Jews would be accused of dual loyalty, or greater loyalty to Israel than to their own country – and they were not mistaken.
At the height of the crisis, the Ha’aretz daily correspondent in Buenos Aires wrote even more forthrightly about a certain uneasiness among Argentine Jews due to the violation of their country's sovereignty and the "lack of understanding" shown by the government of Israel. As Argentine Jews, they considered themselves insulted by the snub to their country. Various Jewish leaders, like the former ambassador to Israel, Gregorio Topolevsky, initially expressed the view that Eichmann should be returned to Argentina. Dr. Mario Schteingart, president of the Argentine Jewish Institute, was not the only person to believe that it would be better for both Israel and the Jews of Argentina if an international court, rather than an Israeli one, were appointed to try Eichmann.
The two years between Eichmann’s kidnapping in May 1960 and his execution in June 1962 were the hardest that the Jews of Argentina had known since the pogrom of the “Semana Trágica” in January 1919. Certain Argentine nationalist groups, spearheaded by the extreme right-wing organization Movimiento Nacionalista Tacuara, sought to exploit Eichmann’s kidnapping and trial and the infringement of Argentine sovereignty in order to attack the Jews in their country. Various nationalist publications also began to point accusing fingers at Argentine Jews. Notable among them were El Pampero, Cabildo, and Azul y Blanco. All these periodicals frequently asserted that Jews bore no loyalty to Argentina, or that their divided loyalties made them support Israel in moments of crisis instead of remaining faithful to the Argentine Republic, whose sovereignty had been violated by the Zionists.
Nationalist hostility was not confined to propaganda against the “Jewish fifth column” in the form of articles, posters, and anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas painted on the walls of buildings in Jewish neighborhoods, but encompassed actual violence: vandalism against Jewish institutions and attacks on Jewish schoolchildren and university students. The most serious incident was an assault on a 19-year-old student by the name of Graciela Sirota. Sirota was kidnapped in the street while waiting for a bus to the University of Buenos Aires. A gray car containing three young men stopped beside her, whereupon one of the men got out, clubbed her, and pulled her into the car. They took her to a place where she was beaten and brutally tortured; her assailants burned different parts of her body with lighted cigarettes and tattooed a swastika on her chest. “This is in revenge for Eichmann,” the kidnappers told her.
The Jewish community of Argentina was galvanized into angry, firm, and unified action by the appalling attack on Graciela Sirota and police indifference to violent acts committed against Jews. On 28 June, 1962, a commercial strike of several hours was declared throughout the Republic, and many businesses bore signs reading “Closed in protest over Nazi aggression in Argentina.” Most of the Jews in Buenos Aires left their workplaces and closed their shops. Although the Jewish protest had been anticipated, the strike turned into an impressive show of strength, since, to the surprise of the Jewish leaders themselves, the response extended far beyond the limits of the organized Jewish community.
In contrast to Argentine Jews’ response to the upsurge of anti-Semitic attacks following Eichmann’s execution, Israel maintained a cautious position to avoid sabotaging the process of rehabilitating its relations with Argentina. At a meeting of foreign-ministry officials attended by foreign minister, Golda Meir, it was decided to avoid any Israeli initiative. Israeli diplomats were told: “We are doubtful that our representatives need at this stage to constitute a factor of direct pressure on the Argentine government, particularly by attributing general responsibility to it for anti-Semitic incidents. It seems better not to take any initiative […] We do not need to create the impression that our representatives exercise direct influence on the response of public opinion outside Argentina.” The fear was that, given the Argentine government’s coolness towards Israel, “if we entered the controversy, the whole thing would snowball in a direction neither side wanted to go.” Cynical observers could claim that silence was the cheapest price the Jewish state could pay to avoid damaging its relations with Argentina, which had only recently returned to normal.
The triangular relations between Argentina, its local Jews and the State of Israel during the dark years of the brutal military dictatorship of the 1970s is a very controversial issue. The Inter-ministerial Commission that was established in Israel, and the report it published a year ago, instead of putting an end to the debate over Israel's behavior during those years, has only sharpened it, encouraging more research on the subject, as was the case with Argentine president, Carlos Menem, and his commission, the CEANA, which sparked a renewed controversy over Argentine policies during World War II and the entry of Nazis to Argentina following the defeat of the Third Reich. The forthcoming book of memoirs written by retired general Itzhak Pundak, former envoy of the Jewish Agency to Buenos Aires at that time, will surely contribute to the debate inaugurated in 1990 with the publication of Marcel Zohar's book, Free my People to Hell. Betrayal in Blue and White: Israel and Argentina: How the Jews Persecuted by the Military were neglected. Written by a journalist, not a historian, and published by a marginal press, this book was dismissed by many at the time as being of little importance.
It is definitely too early to analyze this triangular relationship, particularly since the Israeli foreign ministry has reneged from its earlier promise to give researchers free access to the relevant documents. Therefore, let me just remind all of us that the number of missing and presumably assassinated individuals in Argentina in those years is nearly 9,000, according to conservative estimates, and between 20-30,000 according to more radical estimates. The victims included many people of Jewish background: 1,300 disappeared, in addition to many others who were persecuted in the country or went into exile. Israel’s ties to this dictatorship and its arms sales to the Argentine army underscore a recurring moral dilemma in Israeli foreign policy. Could Israel have done more to defend human rights in Argentina in general, and to save Jewish lives in particular? Did the military-industrial establishment impose its priorities on Israel's diplomacy in this instance as well as in many previous cases?
In most of my interviews with former Israeli diplomats, they rejected such questions and used the Timerman case to support their claim that Israel did its utmost to save Argentine Jews. Yet while, on the one hand, the release of the Argentine Jewish journalist and publisher serves to demonstrate Israel's positive role in defending the cause of human rights in those years, it could well be that the focus on Timerman was also one of the factors that led to the neglect of numerous other Jews that were less well known, who were indeed prisoners without a name and whose cells indeed had no number. Furthermore, Israeli officials have always tended to downplay the contribution of the Carter administration and various Jewish organizations, trying to appropriate for themselves the achievement of Timerman's release.
* And finally, I would like to say a few words about the recent economic crisis in Argentina. This crisis has had a devastating effect on the middle sectors in this country. The Jews, most of whom belonged to these sectors, were hard hit. For the first time in the history of this important community, its leadership had to confront the widespread phenomenon of Jewish poverty. Jewish organizations the world over were alarmed by the news of the severe situation. Relief efforts, however, have exposed a different order of priorities for the State of Israel, on the one hand, and the Jewish Diaspora, on the other. While Israel has limited most of its efforts to encouraging mass immigration and offered generous help to those willing to make “aliya,” the American Jewish Distribution Committee has focused on providing relief to the estimated 200,000 Argentine Jews who remain there. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tried to convince American Jews to finance immigration to Israel: “The Jewish community in Argentina wants to immigrate to Israel, but it is [economically] hard for them… [T]hey need our help and they need your help… Help us to save this community and bring them to Israel.” Michael Schneider, the Joint's executive vice president, put forth a different perspective: “We must step up aliya, but we must also try to do the maximum to preserve the community as a community. We don’t want to see a complete meltdown of this once populous and very vital society.”
Several American philanthropists criticized Israel for “trying to take advantage of the distress of Argentine Jews in order to encourage aliya.” They emphasized that the situation in Argentina was critical and therefore money should be raised for relief, and distributed among all needy Jews, not just those considering immigration: “The immediate and primary goal is not to help them immigrate to Israel, but save them from starvation.”
This conflict, pitting one camp that validates Jewish life in the Diaspora against another that views immigration to Israel as history’s solution to Jewish distress, is not new, but constitutes a historical clash. In informal talks, some Argentine Jews spoke of the "betrayal" of Israel and its instrumental approach to the Diaspora.
Instead of making concluding remarks, I would now like to return to my initial list of unquestioned assumptions. I do not pretend to say that these assumptions are groundless or baseless, but I believe that we should re-examine them again and again in order to be able to advance our research in ways that deal with the history and experience of the majority of Jews, not just with the history of affiliated, middle class, Zionist, Ashkenazi males. I know that several studies in the past decade have challenged one or more of these assumptions. Of course, I cannot mention all of them here, though some were written by people attending this conference. Still, these tacit assumptions underlie most research on the history of Jews in Latin America and we should question them over and over, all the more so within the framework of LAJSA.
Return to LAJSA homepage