Daniel Loza will always remember what he was doing on July 18, 1994.
He was a 23-year-old law student in Buenos Aires when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) was bombed in a terrorist attack, killing 85 people and leaving 300 wounded. This followed a 1992 suicide bombing on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.
“It happened, and the whole country stopped,” recalled Loza, a real estate broker and head of organizing group Argentinos en Philadelphia. “It was like you stop everything in one second, everybody. Like what happened here [on] 9/11, anybody will tell you what you are doing that exact moment that you found out what was going on with the twin towers. The same thing happened in my country.”
Twenty-three years later, no one has been convicted for the attack. Government special prosecutor Alberto Nisman concluded in a 500-page report, released to the public in 2013, that Iran was responsible. He identified several Iranian officials and a connection with Hezbollah in the attack.
He accused former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as well as Héctor Timerman, her foreign minister, and “top Argentine officials of trying to cover up a deal to shield Iranian officials,” an article in The New York Times recounted. But hours before he was to present his findings in January 2015, Nisman was mysteriously found dead in his apartment.
President Mauricio Macri, who replaced Kirchner, has said in reports that he is “determined” to solve the mysterious death.
The lack of a formal conviction is something that has led AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey Regional Director Marcia Bronstein to continue to commemorate it and remember the victims — and call for justice.
On July 18, AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey organized its annual remembrance of the AMIA bombing with “AMIA: 23 Years Without Justice” featuring speakers such as Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, and Minister Alicia Falkowski, head of the the consular section of the Embassy of Argentina in Washington, D.C.
Bronstein went to Buenos Aires in 1995, leaving her 1-year-old daughter at home and spending three weeks helping to clean up the devastation of the attack.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “Their biggest fear was that they would be forgotten and there would be no resolution and we promised our friends there that we would keep the issue alive. So every year in Philadelphia, I feel a personal responsibility to do a program like this and to keep the issue alive — especially since 23 years later, my daughter just graduated from college and is now working in New York and still there’s no resolution for everybody who lost relatives.”
In addition to the emotional connection to Argentina and the AMIA bombing, she feels a personal one, too. Her grandfather left Europe and came through Argentina on his way to the United States, spending four years there.
“Argentina opened its arms to my grandfather, and I feel indebted to the country for doing that,” she said.
A quiet filled the room as guests read aloud the names of the 85 who perished in the attack and lit yahrzeit candles.
AJC Philadelphia Chairman Fred Strober concluded the program with a moment of silence.
For him, the annual program represents a commitment to remembering the victims and keeping the event alive.
“They need to be remembered because somehow or other, they have unfortunately been swept aside,” he said. “At some point, the world will get to come to see that there was a horrible thing here done and we will do everything we can to prevent it happening again.”
For Dayan, speaking was both a “personal and official duty,” as he was representing the State of Israel but is also an Argentine native.
Growing up in Buenos Aires before making aliyah to Israel in 1971, Dayan recalled that AMIA was a “household term” in his childhood. He pointed to the way Iran has been treated since — a contrast to how he feels it should be treated.
“The most important thing is that we all know who perpetrated this crime,” he said, “and I am afraid that not only the individuals that were involved were not brought to justice, also the regime that is behind this crime has not been treated by the international community the way it should. Actually, the opposite happened.”
He pointed to the international community’s “embrace” of Iran by welcoming it to the “family of nations” when it should have done the opposite, he said.
“We are not talking only about the regime that committed that heinous crime in AMIA,” he said, “we are talking about a regime that continues to call for the extermination of the state of Israel so, unfortunately, the family of nations, the international community, in its attitude towards Iran does not fulfill the duty it should fulfill.”
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