"This he wants," cried Nissim elnecave, and flung a newspaper into his desk.
The large headline read: "JACOBO TIMERMAN SUPERSTAR."
"He has insulted the community. He said they are Judernrats. You know what a Judenrat is? Judenrat is the worst insult you can say to a Jewish leader."
Elnecave's voice was rising. "When the Nazis entered a city like Warsaw, they took the head of the community. They said to him, 'You are responsible to us. You are no more the head of the Jewish community. You are a Nazi commissioner. Tommorrow you must give us a list of 100 Jews to take to Aschwitz.' Judenrat is a Nazi agent within the community. It is the worst thing you can call a Jew."
In an old stone apartment building, where a third-floor flat houses the Jewish magazine Elnecave's beard quiivered in his fury. On this Saturday Elnecave was breaking the Jewish Sabbath to pound his fist against the desk at the mention of the exile Jacobo Timerman.
"He is now engaged in a worldwide campaign against Argentine Jews," he said. "He is the first anti-Semite. Because to denigrate a big, flourishing, important Jewish community like this is worse than descrating a cemetery. Because a cemetery you can restore. With honor it is not so easy."
"They sit me down, clothed, and tie my arms around me. The application of elctric shocks begins, penetrating my clothing to the skin. It's extremely painful, but not as bad as when I'm stretched out naked or doused with water. The sensation of the shocks on my head makes me jump in my seat and moan.
"No questions are asked. There is merely a barrage of insults, which increase in intensity as the minutes pass. Suddenly, a hysterical voice begins shouting a single word: 'Jew! Jew! Jew!' Others join in and form a chorus while clapping their hands . . . Now they're really amused, and burst into laughter. . . .
"I keep bouncing in the chair and moaning as the electric shocks penetrate my clothes. During one of these tremors, I fall to the ground, dragging the chair. They get angry, like children whose game has been interrupted, and again start insulting me. The hysterical voice rises above all the others: 'Jew! Jew!'"
Those paragraphs are a passage from Timerman's Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number," the slim memior of his arrest, torture, trial and explusion from Argentina. The book has caused a stir in the United States. To journalists, book reviewers, national politicians and television audiences, Timerman has described today's Argentina as a place where government-sanctioned fascists work unimaginable violence, their presence evident to anyone with the stomach to look and listen.
He has described it as a place where Jews have withdrawn, to quote his book, into "silent complicity . . . the voluptuous sensation of security, the wonderful biological sensation of knowing beyond a doubt that you're alive." This complicity, Timerman writes, has to obsess him: "I would forget my torturers, I told myself, but never the Jewish leaders who acquiesced calmly in the torturing of Jews."
Consciously, from the refuge of his new home in Tel Aviv, Timerman has raised the specter of Nazi Germany as he writes about Argentina. It is a comparison that deeply distrubs many Jewish leaders in Buenos Aires, which has a Jewish population of 250,000, one of the largest outside Israel.
Anti-Semites have struck out at Jews in Argentina for the last 150 years. To this day, many Buenos Aires newsstands display copies of the wildly anti-Semitic tract, "Protocols of the Elderrs of Zion," and ultranationalistic anti-Semitic magazine Cabildo hangs on the same rack with Time and Newsweek. But drawing parallels to Germany in 1938, Jewish leaders here say, is a sensationalistic distortion of a community whose synagogues, sports clubs, kosher butchers, newspapers and history are a vibrant part of contemporary life in Argentina.
"The anti-Semitism of this country is not recent, I think," said David Fleischer, president of the cultural and sports center called the Hebraica Society. "It belongs to a heritiage that goes way back, not just in Argentina. It has spread through Eastern and Western countries. You can't excuse it in Argentina any more than you can in the rest of the world. I don't want to excuse anybody, but I don't want to establish guilt without spreading it all over the world."
"The individual who puts a bomb in the synagogue, who writes, 'Kill a Jew,' who tries to split us up after years of living well together -- this is an anti-Semite, and there are many of them," said an older Jewish scholar whose parents immigrated at the turn of the century to the populous Jewish agricultural colonies northwest of Buenos Aires. "But the country is not anti-Semitic. . . . The Argentine Catholic, despite his Catholicism, despite his ancestral anti-Semitism, despite the pressure from certain anti-Semitic forces -- the basic Argentine is not anti-Semitic."
There have been bombs in synagogues here -- in October 1979 a bomb exploded at a seminary during the high holidays, and in 1980 bombs exploded or were deactivated in a Jewish technical school, a temple, and a primary school.
Last October someone rampaged through a Jewish cemetery, vandalizing tombstones. No one was hurt in any of the attacks.
There are assaults of a different nature, too. The man on the subway, muttering, "Can't stand this car, it's full of dirty Jews," while a young Jewish man flinched nearby. The Psychologist who was dismissed from her clinic by an daministrator who listed all the reasons and then added, "and also, your name is very Jewish." The television interview program late last year, in which the host, on government-owned television, asked a prominent Jewish businessman: "Why is it that Jews are such misers?" "Are you a Jew or an Argentine?" "Why is it that for the past 4,000 years practically everyone has hated the Jews?"
Argentina's president, by constitutional mandate, must by Roman Catholic. Jews do not make it into the high ranks of the military and rarely achieve positions of political power. No one, in recent memory, has ever been arrested for an attack on a Jewish institution.
In the last two months, Buenos Aires newspapers carried two small items that sickened Jews who happened to see them. One was a paid notice of a mass to be said for Adolf Hitller. The other was a paid memorial notice that read, "Karl A. Eichmann (Ricky) (R.I.P.) died tragically on June 1, 1962 . . . To their teacher, with love, from his students." The notice was an obvious reference to Adolph Karl Eichmann, the former Gestapo chief of Jewish affairs accused of organizing the deportation and death of millions of Jews during World War II. Eichmann was captured by Israelis in Argentina, where he lived under the alias Ricardo Clement. Agents smuggled him to Israel, where he was tried and hanged a few minutes before midnight May 31, 1962.
But those notices caused an outcry when they appeared. The newspaper Conviccion, which is linked to the Argentine Navy, ran an enlarged reprint of the Eichmann notice with an angry editiorial strongly condeming anti-semitism. The television interview was widely attacked by Jews and gentiles alike. The presidential law, as the Jewish scholar pointed out, is not aimed directly at Jews: "A Protestant can't be president either. Neither can an Arab."
Professionally and culturally, Jews have integrated with considerable success into most of Argentine life, and social acceptance is so commonplace that many Argentine rabbis worry more about intermarriage and assimilation than bout anti-Semitism.
It is the double-edged reality that defines like for the Argentine Jew -- set apart by religion and culture from a society that still harbors hints of medieval Christian anti-Semitism, that has opened its borders both to Jews fleeing the pogroms and to fascists who call for the extermination of Jews.
"There are realities that are rules of the game," said Mario Gorenstein, a civil attorney who heads the Argentine Delegation of Israelite Associations. "When my father got here as an immigrant, he learned right away that his son was never going to be able to be president. We're a minority in a Catholic society."
Were they silent before the torturing of a fellow Jew? "In no way is it true," Fleischer said. "The community mobilized itself constantly, through meetings with authorities, looking for some king of interaction, meeting with ecclesiastical authorities to reach an understanding. One of the things that made it possible for Timerman to leave the country was the efforts of the Jewish community."
Timmerman has denied that, and he has accused Argentia's Jews of a silence that went far beyond his own case. He and other Argentines who have emerged from the country's prisions have said there are Nazis in the security forces who paint swastikas on prison walls, taunt their prisoners with anti-Semitic epithlets and force them to bow before pictures of Hitler and Mussolini.
It is difficult to find anyone in the Jewish community here who will publicly either affirm or deny that, except to insist that the community has pressed for the resolution of denunciations it can prove. In that sense they are no different from most other Argentines.
In a country where 6,000 disappearances have been documented by human rights workers, there are certain subjects that almost no one is willing to talk about freely.
"It's the grand terror," said a Buenos Aires human rights worker. "But it wasn't just in the Jewish community. It was in the English community, the French community, the Italian community as well. There wasn't a single community it didn't touch."