Argentina, Israel, and the Jews: Peron, the Eichmann Capture and After

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Argentina, Israel, and the Jews: Peron, the Eichmann Capture and After, by Raanan Rein, translated by Martha Grenzeback. University Press of Maryland, 2003. 274 pp. $25.00.

In Argentina, Israel, and the Jews, Raanan Rein studies the relations between the Argentine Government, the Jewish community in Argentina, and the state of Israel, from the mid 1940s to the early 1960s. The work mainly deals with these questions during the first two administrations of Juan Domingo Peron (1946-1955), the military dictatorship that overthrew him, the government of President Frondizi (1958-1962), the capture in Argentina of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and the diplomatic conflict and the antisemitic reaction that followed.

The book is an illuminating piece that both fills an important gap in Argentine and Israeli diplomatic history and revises established (but largely unfounded and inaccurate) images of the relationship between these actors. The author supports his challenging arguments with solid research in Israeli, Argentine, European, and American government archives, as well as newspapers, memoirs, and personal interviews. Rein makes some major statements on the subject. On the one hand, the author argues that the political interests and the strategies of both the Jewish community in Argentina and the state of Israel were often at odds with each other (Israeli governments tended to be more pragmatic). On the other, he says, the policies of Argentine administrations (regardless of the ideological orientation) towards Israel and the Jewish were guided by the (often wrong) assessment of the capacity of the Israelis or the international Jewish community to intervene on behalf of Argentina before the U.S. government or American public opinion.

Rein's analysis of Juan Peron's policies is, probably, the richest and most revealing section of the book. The author shows that far from conducting the antisemitic policies often attributed to his government (powerfully fictionalized by Jorge Luis Borges in "La Fiesta del Monstruo"), Peron waged a very explicit and largely successful campaign of suppression against antisemitism in Argentina, to the extent that antisemitic manifestations of all sorts consistently declined (and almost disappeared) during his first two administrations. At the same time his government tried (and failed) to fully attract the political support of the local Jewish community. As part of the strategy his administration helped organize and supported the peronist Argentine Jewish Organization (OIA) that competed with the political independent Delegation of Jewish Argentine Organizations (DAIA) for the representation of the Jewish community, a muted conflict in which the latter was more successful. How to explain Peron's failure in spite of his numerous and unequivocal friendly gestures toward the Jewish community? (In relation to Peron's commitment an Israeli official saw "decisive evidence that Peron attitude to Jewish issues is positive, at any rate, and serious to the point that he does not settle for declarations or empty gestures, but is ready to go much further" [p. 89].) The author rightly points to several factors, from a logical distrust toward the officer that had participated in the nationalistic military government of 1943, which was sympathetic to the Axis, and Peron's own autocratic and personalistic policies to his pro working-class policies that alienated the mostly urban educated Argentine middle-class, to which most Jews belonged (in a very interesting footnote that suggests the importance of this last factor, the author does note that although Peronism failed to capture the Jewish vote in Buenos Aires, "in the Jewish agricultural settlements in [the provinces of] Santa Fe and Entre Rios, Peronism won a majority" [p. 65]). Contrary to what happened with the local Jewish community, Peron's government succeeded in the establishment of very friedly relations with the state of Israel: it soon recognized the State of Israel, it was the first Latin American nation to open a diplomatic mission in the new nation (to which Peron appointed the first Jewish ambassador of Argentina), and Argentine and Israel signed a crucial commercial treaty (the first between a Latin American nation and the new state). …