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ARGENTINA | 03-11-2023 10:21

Anti-Semitism fears grow in Argentina amid Israel-Hamas war

More than 100 complaints of anti-Semitism have been reported to DAIA Jewish organisation since outbreak of war in Middle East; 'Star of David' graffiti on building in Caballito ramps up discrimination fears as Jewish schools issue uniform warning.

Anti-Semitism fears are growing in Argentina following the outbreak of war in the Middle East.

Since the start of hostilities in the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, there have been at least 100 fresh complaints of anti-Semitism made to the influential Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA) umbrella organisation, which tracks such incidents and has been publishing annual reports on the issue since 1998.

By way of comparison, in the entirety of 2022 the Jewish organisation registered 427 complaints of anti-Semitism.

“This is a lot more [complaints] than we would see normally,” Marisa Braylan, the director of DAIA’s Centre of Social Studies, told the Times.

The escalation of the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas has led to a spate of anti-Semitic outbreaks around the world.

Most incidents consist of verbal insults, slander or threats on the Internet, graffiti and defacement of Jewish property, businesses or places of religious significance. Physical assaults also account for a significant proportion.

These fears are running just as high in Buenos Aires. Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America, between 200,000 and 250,000 people and fears are growing in the community that they may be targeted as Israel’s ground and air assault on the Gaza Strip continues.

Highlighting those concerns, an apartment building on Guayaquil Street in Caballito, Buenos Aires, was painted with a black Star of David on Tuesday night – scenes reminiscent of the way the Nazis branded and identified Jews and their property before and during World War II.

Citing parents in the capital, the Reuters news agency also confirmed this week that pupils at some Jewish schools have been told not to wear their usual uniforms so they can be less easily identified.

On October 29, Federal Police in Argentina arrested a 35-year-old man in Villa Urquiza, Buenos Aires, who had threatened to attack Jewish schools on social media.

 

Unease

Some Jewish residents in the capital confessed a sense of unease.

“In Buenos Aires, it's more just words rather than acts of violence. There is the belief that Jews victimise themselves,” said 21-year-old student Naomi S. in an interview. 

She highlighted anti-Semitic comments online largely related to the Israel-Hamas war: “There are comments conflating Palestine with Hamas. It isn’t about Israel or Palestine. It’s peace versus terrorism.” 

Naomi, who visited Israel last year, adds that many of her non-Jewish friends, faculty, and classmates did not know what was going on and that she has had to explain the conflict to them.

“Obviously, being Jewish, we’re in danger in this situation because this isn’t a territorial conflict, it’s a religious conflict. In being part of this religion, we are part of this war,” she told the Times.

Currently, Argentina has been trying to secure the release and bring home 21 Argentine hostages being held by Hamas. Many Jews, like Naomi, want to help, but don’t know how: “I want peace, just not through war.”

“Jews around the world have no decisions in the Israeli government. We support the Jewish state but we have nothing to do with it. We can’t do anything about it,” said Ariel Gelblung, Latin America director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which also tracks anti-Semitism.

Gelblung said he’s gotten more fearful calls from Jews across Latin America since the start of the war, mentioning one woman from Venezuela who called him crying after being kicked out of her local beauty salon for being Jewish. 

Other religious leaders in Argentina condemned anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jews.

“We shouldn't import those conflicts into our society, we shouldn’t generalise,” Marwan Sarwar Gill, a noted imam and President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Argentina, said in an interview.

“We shouldn't victimise all Jewish people or hold them accountable for what the Israeli military or government is doing. But on the same side and with the same firmness, we shouldn't blame Muslims for what Hamas did,” he said.

Gill, who is a promoter of interfaith initiatives and collaborates with other religious groups, noted the similarities between Jews and Muslims and said he hopes people strive to keep dialogue in the search for peace. 

“Hamas is not representing Islam, it is not a religious war between Jews and Muslims,” he said. “We consider every human life to have the same sanctity, the same dignity and deserves the same amount of respect and reverence.”

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Montserrat Pagan

Montserrat Pagan

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