February 21, 2000

Argentine Jews ask Israel for help in recovering bodies from 'dirty war'

                  JERUSALEM (AP) -- Jewish dissidents in Argentina endured especially cruel
                  treatment in that country's "dirty war," their families said Monday as they called on
                  Israel to fulfill a moral obligation to help recover bodies of the "disappeared."

                  An Israeli minister recently claimed that the new Argentine president has pledged to
                  track down the bodies of Jews who disappeared during the 1976-83 military
                  dictatorship, although President Fernando de la Rua has since said his offer was

                  One victim's brother, Oskar Jaimovich, told the parliament's immigration
                  committee that anti-Semitism played a role in the torture and execution of his
                  17-year-old sister, Alejandra, by paramilitary forces over the summer of

                  "It is expected that the Israeli government represents Jews and should deal
                  with such problems -- to check what role anti-Semitism played and why
                  Jews were treated worse," Jaimovich said.

                  During the "dirty war," at least 9,000 leftists and dissidents vanished after
                  being detained by the junta's security forces, according to an Argentine
                  government report. Human rights groups say the figure is closer to 30,000.

                  Of those who vanished, up to some 2,000 were Jewish, said Diaspora
                  Affairs Minister Michael Melchior, although Argentinean Jewish groups
                  estimate the number to be approximately 1,500.

                  Melchior told the committee that he did not understand why de la Rua
                  backtracked on his commitment last month to track down the bodies of
                  missing Jews so their families could bury them according to Jewish ritual.

                  After Melchior told reporters about the alleged offer, the Argentine
                  government issued a statement saying Melchior's account of his meeting with
                  the president did "not appropriately reflect what was said," without

                  "Perhaps there is someone who wants to try to retreat from what we agreed
                  upon," Melchior said.

                  Efraim Zadoff, an historian who has researched the plight of Jews who were
                  among the "disappeared," suggested that Argentinean authorities feared the
                  implication of people still in positions of influence.

                  "I fear that he (the Argentine president) is backing off because ... some of
                  the murderers are still among the government, police, and army today,"
                  Zadoff said.

                  Jaimovich, today a 50-year-old economist living in central Israel, said he
                  learned from former prison camp inmates that his sister's Jewishness led her
                  captors to subject her to especially harsh treatment and increased torture.

                  "It is expected that the Israeli government represents Jews and should deal
                  with such problems -- to check what role anti-Semitism played and why
                  Jews were treated worse," Jaimovich said.

                  Others who lost family members during the military years said it is not
                  necessarily Israel's role to track down the bodies.

                  Noga Tarnapolsky, an Israeli journalist who is writing a book on her own
                  family's experience under Argentina's military rule, said the victims were
                  targeted primarily because they were perceived as dissidents, although Jews
                  were singled out for especially rough treatment.

                  "The Jews killed in Argentina are an Argentine problem," Tarnapolsky, who
                  lost five family members, said in a phone interview. "They were murdered as
                  Argentinean citizens."

                  De la Rua's predecessor, Carlos Menem, pardoned the top junta leaders in
                  1990, just five years after they were jailed for life for human rights abuses.
                  Raising the issue of the "disappeared" is still sensitive in Argentina.

                  For the families, the pain lingers. Jaimovich spoke of the toll of wrestling with
                  the loss of "disappeared" for as long as 25 years.

                  "It breaks down families, people don't know how to function, it's paralyzing,"
                  he said, "With no body there is nothing to bury, this makes it much harder."