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Jewish Social Studies 7.3 (2001) 101-130

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The Eichmann Kidnapping: Its Effects on Argentine-Israeli Relations and the Local Jewish Community

Raanan Rein

The election of Arturo Frondizi as president of Argentina in February 1958 was welcome news to both the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the leaders of the local Jewish community. And he had not lived in the presidential palace for long before their expectations appeared to have been justified. The Jews of Argentina felt a growing sense of security and well-being, and relations between Jerusalem and Buenos Aires grew closer. 1 The kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann in May 1960, however, interrupted this idyll, precipitating a crisis that nearly severed the ties between the two countries and threatened Argentine Jews' sense of personal security. The Argentine Jewish community, which was then just marking the hundredth anniversary of its existence, became the target of a wave of antisemitic terror and nationalist attacks that sought to cast doubt on Jewish citizens' loyalty to the Argentine republic.

This article will examine the consequences of the Eichmann kidnapping for the Jewish community of Argentina and for Buenos Aires' relations with Jerusalem. The contrast between the very speedy resolution of the crisis in Israeli-Argentine relations and the affair's long-lasting effects on Argentina's Jews indicates once again that the interests of the local Jewish community and those of the state of Israel--which defined itself on the day of its birth as "the Jewish state"--are not completely congruent and involve, at times, different dynamics. 2 It also [End Page 101] indicates that Argentine authorities were too often unwilling or unable to put a stop to antisemitic attacks by nationalist groups. Instead, they opted for closer relations with the Jewish state, hoping in this way to prevent such attacks from blackening Argentina's image in Western public opinion in general and in the American media in particular. Securing U.S. support and economic cooperation was, after all, a prime goal for all Argentine governments in the post-World War II era.

High Hopes

Argentina abstained from the United Nations vote in November 1947 on the plan to partition Palestine and establish a Jewish state there. Once the state of Israel had been founded, however, President Juan Perón sought close relations with it. Yet all the populist president's efforts to win the confidence and enlist the support of the Jewish community in his own country were in vain, 3 and many Jews applauded his overthrow in September 1955. Frondizi, in contrast, headed the progressive-left faction of the Radical Party (Unión Cívica Radical Intransigente, or UCRI), a party traditionally seen to represent middle-class interests and which accordingly enjoyed the support of most of Argentina's Jews. 4

Frondizi had courted the Jewish community and shown consideration for the position of the Israeli embassy even before he was elected president. 5 In December 1957, he requested a meeting with the Israeli ambassador, Arye Kubovi. The ambassador attributed this request to "the possibility that his [Frondizi's] advisers urged him to win over the Jewish community through me." 6 In the meeting, the UCRI presidential candidate explained that it was "his intention to re-emphasize his party's friendly attitude toward the Jewish community and the Jewish people." As evidence, he pointed to the candidacy of a Jew, Luis Gutnizky, a member of Frondizi's progressive faction, for the position of governor of the province of Misiones.

Kubovi, considering himself on this occasion to be a spokesman for the Argentine Jewish community as well as an Israeli diplomat, argued that this was not enough, and he urged Frondizi to include a prominent Jew among the UCRI's top candidates for the federal capital's representatives in the national Chamber of Deputies. 7 "If I am not mistaken," the ambassador remarked, "the first Jew on the list is in spot number 12 [Zenon Goldstraj]. How can this be compared to the status of, for example, Arturo Matov, a Popular Radical [the...


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