Anita Weinstein is a survivor.
She remembers the day 18 years ago when a car bomb destroyed the Argentina-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. She describes the incredible force of the blast, the sound of shattered glass, the screams of her colleagues, the dust, the confusion, the shock of watching the initial rescue efforts unfold as she tried to get in touch with her family to tell them that she was alive.
Weinstein, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, told her story at the Turnberry Aventura Jewish Center on Wednesday at a service sponsored by Jewish advocacy group AJC to commemorate the 85 people killed and more than 300 wounded in the worst terrorist attack in Argentinas history.
My mother came a few hours after that, to the AMIA, Weinstein said. She came to embrace me, to hold me, and she said I would have never thought that a daughter of mine would be called, again, a survivor of an attack on the Jewish people.
The rhetoric of never again rang hollow Wednesday as a moment of silence was observed for the five Israeli tourists and driver who were killed earlier that day when a bomb exploded on an airport bus in Bulgaria. The international community rushed to condemn the violence that took place on the 18th anniversary of the AMIA bombing.
At the memorial service in Aventura, Israeli Consul General Chaim Shacham described the attack in Bulgaria as a continuation of the tragedy in Buenos Aires and other threats to Jewish people around the world. He called on all countries who aspire to peace, to freedom, to democracy, to stand together against what he called the murderous Iranian terrorism that was initially suspected in both attacks. A senior U.S. official told The New York Times on Thursday that a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria carried out the attack.
Argentine investigators have issued various arrest warrants over the years for Iranian citizens and members of Hezbollah in the AMIA bombing. Repeated extradition requests have been ignored, and one of the alleged planners, Ahmad Vahidi, has since been appointed as Irans defense minister.
A 2004 trial cleared the local connection in Argentina of all charges for lack of evidence and a bribery scandal involving witnesses. In 2005, the federal judge who heard the case was impeached a month after then President Nestor Kirchner publicly recognized the handling of the case as a national disgrace.
The lack of answers is still a painful topic for Argentinas 230,000 Jews, one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. Two years before the AMIA bombing, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was also attacked, killing 29 people and wounding 242.
Wednesdays service to honor the victims also demanded justice for the victims and their families. The continuing investigation now has three dimensions, said Miguel Talento, Argentinas consul general in Miami.
First of all, we are investigating the complicity of Iranian citizens, Talento said. The second part addresses the Argentine connection, who sold the car that exploded and helped with the planning. The third charge is against the judge in the first trial, against President [Carlos] Menem [who was in office at the time of the attack], and against those who covered up the investigation.
Argentina has had no formal diplomatic relationship with Iran since the AMIA bombing, and in her speech at the United Nations last year, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner addressed the Iranian delegation to ask for their cooperation in bringing those responsible to trial. Her administration has suggested using a third country as neutral ground for a fair trial, but Tehran rejected the request.
Kirchner has promised that there will be no overtures to Iran until the AMIA case is resolved.
Argentine ambassador to the United States Jorge Argüello urged patience with the judicial process in his speech Wednesday. He pointed to the decades that passed between the end of Argentinas Dirty War and the eventual trials of the military leaders who were responsible for the disappearance of 30,000 people.
For the prosecution of those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorship, the Argentines had to wait a long time, Argüello said. But today is a reality that makes it clear that in my country there is no space for impunity for those criminals. The same will happen with those responsible for the attack on the AMIA.
International and local leaders lit 85 candles while a slideshow of photographs of the victims was projected on a screen. As has been the tradition in AMIA memorial services from Argentina to Miami for the past 18 years, people repeated the word presente after the name of each victim to affirm their continued presence in the collective memory and the demand for justice.
Anita Weinstein, the survivor, spoke of the resilience of the Jewish community in Argentina and expressed overwhelming gratitude for the solidarity in Aventura. But she said it was painful and frustrating to wait for the Argentine government to continue investigating the circumstances of the tragedy.
We are sure that a society without justice is not a good society, she said. A society without justice does not respect life and opens the door to others who might do things to take another life.