Last Thursday’s 30th anniversary of the terrorist bomb destruction of the Israeli Embassy had much in common with the early anniversaries in the past century – the quest for justice while deploring impunity with fingers pointing firmly at Iran and Hezbollah. The passage of time was only reflected in a diminished attendance – perhaps only half the size of a decade ago.
As always the commemoration began with a siren blaring out at 2.47pm, the exact time a car-bomb slammed into the elegant downtown building on Arroyo Street on March 17, 1992. The names of 29 fatal victims, Jewish and Gentile, were then read out with the crowd chanting: “Presente” after each name.
Martín Goldberg, related to a victim, then read out a Mourner’s Kaddish, followed by a prayer from Father Rodrigo Valdés from the Mater Admirabilis church standing opposite the former Embassy and also shattered by the blast 30 years ago.
Messages of solidarity were next read out from Congress Speaker Sergio Massa, five ministers of the national Cabinet and several provincial governors among others, followed by the laying of wreaths.
Miri Ben Zeev Koren, the widow of the slain Embassy security chief Eli Ben Zeev who “didn’t arrive in time to be killed,” was the first to speak (in Hebrew), describing how her then young family had been making lunchtime plans for the rest of that day just quarter of an hour before the bomb and concluding that “nowhere in the world is safe for Jews.”
Next followed Israeli Ambassador to Argentina Galit Ronen, who, after a brief mention of the sadness of the occasion, wasted little time in pointing an accusatory finger at Iran.
"We know who are responsible for this attack and also the one two years later against the AMIA [Jewish community centre]. There is a name and a surname. The name is Hezbollah and the surname is Iran," she affirmed, also deploring “the silence of justice."
The national government was represented by Justice Minister Martín Soria, accompanied by Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero (just back from the Middle East) and two other colleagues – Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro (Interior) and Jorge Taiana (Defence) with City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta also present.
Deploring the “cruel and cowardly attack,” Soria described memory, truth and justice as the shared values of Argentina and Israel, attributing the 1994 AMIA atrocity to their absence.
"In both cases, unfortunately, the common denominator is the zero advance of the court cases and a painful impunity," warned the minister.
While generally aiming for a non-partisan tone, Soria could not resist a dig at the Mauricio Macri administration for allegedly running down the AMIA archives as from 2018 while underlining his own government’s commitment to a full investigation of the terrorist attacks.
But Soria’s Israeli counterpart Gideon Sa’ar, also deputy premier and the keynote speaker at the commemoration (choosing to express himself in English), seemed to take an opposite view of the Macri presidency, praising it for being the first Latin American government to declare Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation as well as for a law installing remembrance of the attack throughout the Argentine educational system.
Echoing Ronen’s words as to the authorship of "this horrendous attack" by Iran and Hezbollah and calling on them to be tried for "their crimes against humanity," Sa’ar underlined that this terrorist attack was also direct against “the land where my father was born,” pointing out that Argentines and even Bolivians and Paraguayans also died with other nationalities among the 242 wounded while a church shared the destruction.
The court case, in the hands of the Supreme Court as an international incident, has been virtually dormant since 2015 when new arrest warrants for suspects were issued but in 2006 it was declared beyond any statute of limitations. There is some confusion over the death toll, which was consistently given as 29 during Thursday’s commemoration but the remains of 22 people were identified, making it the official figure.
Tight security by all four of the country’s main national police forces accompanied the event.