Alberto Fernández rounded off his first foreign trip as president this week with a promise to discover the truth about Argentina’s worst-ever terrorist attack.
“Our commitment to know the truth about AMIA is absolute,” the Peronist leader told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu Thursday during a bilateral meeting in Jerusalem.
The two leaders met yesterday while Fernández was in Jerusalem for the International Forum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The 1994 attack on AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires left 85 dead. It is the second deadliest terrorist attack on record in the western hemisphere, behind only the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
“We must know what happened, for the sake of remembering all who perished there,” said Fernández, according to an official release by the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.
Given the lingering uncertainty surrounding the investigation into the AMIA attack — reinvigorated due to the five-year anniversary of Alberto Nisman’s death and a new Netflix documentary probing if he was killed or committed suicide — Fernández’s words carried extra weight, especially given that it was his first international trip and first bilateral meeting on foreign soil with a head of state. A source at the Foreign Ministry said the meeting between the two leaders lasted two hours.
Regarding AMIA, “it’s an item which is always on the bilateral agenda between the two nations,” Ronen Kraus, deputy chief-of-mission at the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, told the Times. “As long as we don’t have a conclusion on that, it will be on the agenda.”
Paolo Botta, the executive director of the Middle East programme at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), praised the president for directly addressing a critical issue for both the Jews in Argentina and the wider Jewish community around the globe.
“It’s good that he raised the issue — there is no need to hide it,” said Botta. “But it was more of a rhetorical gesture.”
AMIA president Ariel Eichbaum declined to comment on Fernández’ statements. However, Eichbaum, who attended the international forum in Jerusalem commemorating the Holocaust and the liberation of Auschwitz, praised the event itself.
“We cannot spare any effort in the transmission and education of the Holocaust… We must all be united in the fight against anti-Semitism and xenophobia and in the construction of a society based on two fundamental values: peace and respect for differences,” said Eichbaum in a statement to the Times.
In their meeting, Netanyahu thanked Fernández for his presence at the ceremony. The prime m i n ister noted that Argentina’s attendance at the event was particularly meaningful for him because his wife, Sara Netanyahu, had family who fled to Argentina during the Holocaust.
Fernández accepted an invitation to attend the remembrance ceremony last week. He was the lone Latin-American head-of-state to receive an invitation.
The Israeli leader, who was recently indicted on bribery and corruption charges, also discussed with Fernández an impending airspace deal with a few African nations that would permit the Jewish state to shorten flight times to Argentina by four hours.
“Surely this will permit an increase in movement between our countries,” affirmed Netanyahu, who is preparing for a third round of elections after his party, Likud, and the opposition party, Blue and White, have twice failed to form governing coalitions.
“I have had two very intense days in Israel,” said Fernández Thursday in an Instagram post, expressing his feelings on the trip. “It is surprising that in such a small geographic area, and in such a short time, they have managed to build an economically successful and technologically advanced country.”
“It escapes none of us that, for millions of people, Israel was a hope that emerged from the horror of the Holocaust,” he continued, before going on to address peace in the Middle East and express Argentina’s continued support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue.
“I leave this beautiful land with a dream: to see it live in peace with its neighbours, and especially with the Palestinian people…I know the complexity of the subject, which has been without solution for years. But we will never give up dreaming of peace.”
“If Holocaust survivors could build this country, why can’t we find solutions for their descendants to clearly less complicated problems? The need to live in peace must drive us.”
Despite the short length of his visit, Fernández was able to bilaterally meet with Israel’s three most significant figures: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and leader of the opposition Blue and White party, Benny Gantz.
The Argentine also formally met Emmanuel Macron of France and Mike Pence of the United States, though a one-onone meeting with Vladimir Putin – reportedly brokered by Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, according to the local press reports – was cancelled after the Russian leader arrived an hour late to an event.
According to Botta, Fernández didn’t try to make friends “with administrations but rather with countries.” The Middle East expert thought that meeting with both Gantz and Netanyahu was critical given the unpredictable state of Israeli politics.
“The purpose of the trip was not to do a round of negotiations,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that it was important for the administration to present to the world an Argentina that was “not isolated to the world nor aligned with terrorists,” said the spokesman, referencing a common line of attack during the campaign from Cambiemos leader.
By projecting an image of international cooperation — and by forcefully upholding human rights and condemning anti-Semitism — the trip achieved its purpose, said the spokesman.
Weighing heavy on the minds of the Fernández administration, of course, is Argentina’s looming debt problem. According to the AFP news agency, the country’s debt load currently stands at around US$335 billion, or 93 percent of GDP. Of that, US$44 billion is owed to the International Monetary Fund, with talks on delaying repayment set to begin soon. According to the spokesman, Israel may play an important role in how the renegotiations with the Fund play out.
According to sources at the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, all three Israeli leaders thanked Fernández for Argentina’s approach to Hezbollah, whom both nations deem as a terror organisation.
Earlier this week, the Financial Information Unit (UIF) extended a freeze on various assets thought to belong to Hezbollah, the terror group based out of Lebanon and financed by Iran widely believed to be responsible for the AMIA attack.