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Lessons of AMIA bombing

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The terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires in July 1994 was a watershed moment in modern Jewish history. The atrocity, in which 85 people were killed and more than 300 injured, brought home to diaspora Jewry how vulnerable they were to similar attacks and the urgent need for Jewish communities worldwide to adopt appropriate security measures. Since then, securing Jewish installations and following sensible safety protocols at community events has become a major focus of the global Jewish leadership.

On Tuesday 26 July, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Gauteng Council partnered with the Argentine embassy in commemorating the 28th anniversary of the AMIA bombing at Beyachad. Board representatives have taken part in previous such memorial events in South Africa and in Argentina itself, but this was the first time the local Jewish community was commemorating the tragedy on its own behalf and on its own premises.

Participants were addressed by Argentine Ambassador Claudio Paladino, who spoke about what had been done by succeeding governments to bring to justice the perpetrators of what remains to date the worst terrorist attack on Argentinian soil. We were further fortunate to have a survivor of the attack, Anita Weinstein, relate via a live link her memories of that traumatic day. In addition to the victims of the 1994 bombing, those who died in a terrorist attack on the Israel embassy in Buenos Aires two years previously were also remembered.

In his welcome message, SAJBD Gauteng Council Chairperson Harold Jacobs stressed that what happened in Buenos Aires could have happened anywhere – in New York, London, Sydney, or Johannesburg. Taking this lesson to heart, diaspora Jewry have since taken extensive steps to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place at Jewish communal installations and community events. Jacobs took the opportunity to pay tribute to the Community Security Organisation, many of whose members were present, for having so admirably performed this essential function over the past 25 years and more.

AMIA alerted world Jewry to the necessity of being continually vigilant against possible terrorist attacks and of securing itself as much as possible against this. Jacobs pointed to another critical lesson that we – and indeed the civilised world as a whole – must take from what happened in Buenos Aires, which is the urgent need for all of us to take a stand against extremist ideology and its adherents wherever they surface. In the course of relating her memories, Weinstein commented how much hatred people must feel in order to carry out a mass murder of innocents, even (as was the case with AMIA) at the cost of their own lives. Indeed, for terrorist atrocities to occur, it’s first necessary for those who perpetrate them to be radicalised, indoctrinated, and taught to hate, to the extent that their chosen victims are regarded as legitimate targets rather than as fellow human beings. To defeat these evil ideologies, it’s our abiding duty to build a culture of tolerance and respect for the sanctity of human life and to inculcate these values into our own and future generations.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday, 12:00 to 13:00.

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