Nearly three decades ago, Rodolfo Barra resigned as Argentina’s justice minister in the wake of revelations about his past membership in a violent antisemitic group. Now, the newly elected prime minister has tapped Barras to head the country’s top legal office.
The appointment by Javier Milei, a far-right upstart who backs Israel and has said he wants one day to convert to Judaism, has drawn a range of reaction from Jewish groups in Argentina. The country’s main Jewish organization, DAIA, noted that Barra had expressed regret about his actions in his youth, while a new group formed after the election to oppose antisemitism called Barra’s appointment “a direct affront to the democratic and plural spirit” of Argentine.
A third group, founded to advocate for the families of the victims of two bombings in the 1990s that claimed the lives of more than 100 people at Buenos Aires’ Israeli embassy and Jewish community center, offered “absolute rejection” of the appointment, according to the Buenos Aires Herald. Barra had been investigating the bombings, which are still officially unsolved, when he resigned.
The revelations about Barra rocked Argentina’s government in 1996. A local weekly magazine revealed that Barras had belonged to the right-wing group UNES when he was a high school student. UNES was a youth group affiliated with Tacuara, an organization responsible for hundreds of antisemitic actions, including attacks against synagogues, a violent riot in the Jewish neighborhood of Buenos Aires and the murder of Alberto Alterman, a Jewish lawyer. The expose also included a picture of Barra joining a group of men in delivering a Nazi salute.
Barras admitted that he had been part of UNES but said he had been young and ill-informed, writing in a public letter at the time, “If I was a Nazi, I regret it.” But a different magazine reported that he had graduated to another extremist group, Patria Grande, and worked in his late 20s with a noted Argentinean fascist at the University of Buenos Aires.
He resigned amid widespread pressure, including from DAIA, whose president said at the time, “Argentine Jews are not comfortable with a former Nazi in the Cabinet.” Barra was replaced by a Jewish deputy minister, Elias Jassan.
In his new role, which he is set to assume Dec. 10, Barra will helm Argentina’s legal efforts against antisemitism and discrimination. DAIA emphasized in a statement that it would keep a careful eye on his department’s activities and “will be present to ensure its adherence to the law and that this is fulfilled by the government and whoever governs.”