Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tough Stories to Report: Anti-Semitism in Argentina

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself reporting a lot on anti-Semitism, unfortunately.

The ironic reality of this is that while Argentina is home to one of the world’s largest Jewish populations (some 250,000), it also served as a haven for Nazi war criminals, and was the site of two deadly anti-Semitic terrorist attacks in the 1990s. 114 people were killed in the 1992 and 1994 bombings. Both attacks remain unsolved.

In news related to the 1994 AMIA Jewish Center bombing, I wrote a story yesterday for CNN.com about Claudio Lifschitz, a former investigating lawyer into the AMIA attack, who says he was kidnapped and tortured last Friday by three masked men claiming to be agents of Argentina’s national intelligence agency.

As you can see from the photos above, which Lifschitz himself sent to me, his arm was burned with a blowtorch, and the word ‘AMIA’ was carved into his back with a knife. Scary stuff.

When I spoke to Lifschitz, he seemed calm, and almost resigned to the fact that these sort of things will happen to those who speak out against alleged government corruption in Argentina. This is a sad state of affairs.

You can read my full report on the incident here at CNN.com.

In February, I filed a series of on-air and on-line reports for CNN about Bishop Richard Williamson (above), the ultra-conservative priest who made comments denying the extent of the Holocaust in an interview with Swedish television. The interview was broadcast just two days after the Vatican decided to lift his excommunication, creating a major controversy for Pope Benedict XVI. When it was revealed that Williamson lived here in Argentina, media outlets from around the world scrambled to get an interview with him, including CNN. Nobody was successful (save Germany’s Spiegel, who did an email/fax interview with him), but we were able to speak to some residents of La Reja, Argentina, where the St. Pius X seminary that Williamson has led since 2003 is located. You can watch that report here.

Williamson was soon removed from his post at the seminary, and shortly thereafter, Argentina’s Interior Ministry told him he had ten days to leave the country, or face expulsion. Argentine authorities clearly did not welcome the added attention the country was receiving as a result of Williamson living here.

A few days later, Williamson was at the Buenos Aires Int’l Airport (EZE) where he was approached by a local television journalist with the cameras rolling. What transpired was truly amazing. The images captured by Argentina’s Canal 13/TN were sent out by Associated Press Television, and aired around the world, including on CNN International, where I did a “look-live" report from the Buenos Aires bureau. My report is not available online, but you can watch the video here of Williamson confronting the local reporter in all his dark-glasses-and-clenched-fist-to-the-face-and-elbow-to-the-groin-glory. Not very becoming of a man of the cloth, huh?

I would have loved to have been able to stakeout the airport and wait for Williamson to show up, but unfortunately, I don’t have the financial resources to fund that kind of operation. Thankfully, the local press was there. When Williamson arrived the next morning in London, he was met by an enormous crowd of media, as well as supporters and detractors. He is back in his home country now, and is likely to keep a low profile, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this case. Some countries may try to extradite and press criminal charges against him for denying the Holocaust. Stay tuned.

I discussed the Bishop Williamson case as a guest on “Beyond the Pale” a weekly radio show that airs on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York. You can listen to the interview I did with host Esther Kaplan here.

Photos courtesy of Claudio Lifschitz and AFP/Getty Images.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Trendwatch: I-Bankers Invade Buenos Aires

This week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us……

According to a “Trendwatch” report posted today on Gawker, Buenos Aires is now attracting a whole new slew of Ex-Pats: laid-off investment bankers. Fantastic!

I’m not questioning the veracity of this “trend” (in fact, I know one such person: a high school classmate of mine arrived here a few months ago after losing his I-Banking job in NYC), but the fact that vapid online Manhattan media outlets are devoting virtual ink to this has me bracing for the inevitable occurrence in the very near future when I overhear a wannabe Master-of-the-Universe in a button-down in Palermo marveling at “how fucking cheap it is here, man. This would cost like $200 bucks in the city.”

There’s been real ink shed on this topic recently as well: A New York Observer piece is what originally piqued Gawker’s interest, and The Washington Post also filed a similar, yet pointedly more academic, dissection of the trend in an A1 story last Friday.

But unfortunately, Gawker’s post will likely get the most eyeballs, and generate the most comments, because, hey, that’s the way things work in our quasi-journalistic online world these days.

Of course, I am guilty of writing a similar “foreigners are flocking to Buenos Aires” story, as are several of my BsAs-based colleagues, and that’s fine. We identified what we considered to be a legitimate trend, and we reported it. (My Newsweek piece on this topic was plagiarized by the New York Times last year, although they refused to acknowledge it despite overwhelming evidence.)

But to get this info from Gawker, and to know that it will be taken as gospel by many readers, is disheartening. To boot: Gawker's post today makes cheeky references to two well-known Buenos Aires landmarks, and gets them both wrong: the Teatro Colon has been closed for renovation for some two years, so it’s not likely that any visitor (I-Banker or not) has strolled through there recently, and last time I checked “Pablo Neruda’s old house” was in Chile, not Argentina. (I know, I know, it’s hard to keep track of these Latino literary legends. Neruda, Borges, Marquez....what’s the difference, right?)

**UPDATE** - My friend, the always reliably snarky Fernando Cwilich Gil, has also taken issue with this disturbing trend, and says so in a post today on BlackBook.

Fernando's been writing some really insightful and salty Buenos Aires-related posts these past weeks on BlackBook, be sure to check them out.