Hate speech and misinformation – ArgentinaAntisemitism on the rise in the midst of the pandemic
Thought to number just over 180,000 people today (although some estimates are higher), Jewish people in Argentina have long been victims of hate speech. During the pandemic, however, antisemitic rhetoric against the community in national media increased alarmingly.
The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a proliferation of conspiracy theories and slurs, including accusations of profiteering levelled against Jewish businessmen linked with the production of vaccines and soybean. This rhetoric taps into a long history of stigma and discrimination against the community.
Notoriously, after the Second World War, Argentina served as a refuge for Nazi leaders such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele. During the military junta’s dictatorship (1976–83), relatives of abducted Jewish community members were subject to extortion by military officers asking for money and properties in exchange for the return of victims, many of whom were already dead. Jewish detainees being held in facilities were often treated brutally and subsequent estimates suggest that more than 12 per cent of those ‘disappeared’ by the regime were Jewish.
Antisemitism did not end with the fall of the junta. Two separate terrorist attacks have been perpetrated against Jewish institutions in Argentina: the bombing of the Israeli embassy in 1992, killing 29 people, followed by an even deadlier attack against the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994 that resulted in the deaths of 85 people. Both incidents remain unsolved. In 2015, National Prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his house. Nisman had been due to publish a report into the 1994 attack, which reportedly accused the Argentinian government of complicity in a cover-up.
There have been some positive steps in recent years, including Argentina’s adoption in 2020 of a new definition of antisemitism as ‘a certain perception of Jews that can be expressed as hatred for Jews’.
There have been some positive steps in recent years, including Argentina’s adoption in 2020 of a new definition of antisemitism as ‘a certain perception of Jews that can be expressed as hatred for Jews’. This formulation was developed for those working in local authorities, public administration and the civil service, and subsequently adopted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the overall aim of reducing antisemitism and discriminatory acts in the public sector. Nevertheless, as highlighted by organizations such as the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA), a variety of manifestations of antisemitism persist in the country today, ranging from xenophobic statements and stereotypes to conspiracy theories and Nazi symbology.
The DAIA has also drawn attention to the proliferation of antisemitism online, in particular linked to the pandemic. Many of these statements accuse Jewish families of demanding preferential treatment when seeing a doctor, controlling the Argentinian government and seeking the expansion of Zionism. In addition, its research uncovered countless conspiracy theories demonizing Jews on social media. In some cases, these adapt old antisemitic tropes to the new reality of COVID-19: for example, in April 2021, tweets by a high-profile businessman who is under house arrest accused several Jewish businessmen of corruption and specifically targeted one Jewish business leader, Hugo Sigman, for his involvement in local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19.
Antisemitic declarations have also appeared in traditional media outlets and from elected officials. In January 2021, Congressman and political leader Pablo Ansaloni accused the Argentine Jewish community of being ‘stateless’, with no respect for or attachment to Argentina, while delivering a presentation about trade unions in Argentina. ‘We are closer than ever, no one will break us’, he said in a public address, ‘because out there, they are like the Jews, who have no homeland and do not know where they are or who they represent.’ Shortly after Ansaloni’s declarations, a Jewish family was savagely attacked in La Falda, Córdoba, with the aggressors allegedly beating the father after intercepting their car following a chase.
For Jewish Argentinians, beyond its immediate health impacts, the pandemic has therefore brought an added threat – the revival of destructive antisemitic stereotypes and falsehoods in a country where memories of targeted violence against the community are still fresh.
Photo: Jewish community members wear face masks as they walk outside a closed store, as Argentina works to organize arrival of a rabbis’ delegation from Israel to keep kosher beef lines going in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Buenos Aires, Argentina May 20, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian.