The head of Argentina’s main Jewish group said an assault Monday on the country’s chief rabbi was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich was beaten and seriously injured by assailants who broke into his home while he and his wife were there, taking money and personal effects.
Jorge Knoblovits, the president of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Aid Association (AMIA), said seven men were involved in the assault Monday in Buenos Aires on Davidovich, who is 62.
AMIA’s quoted the Davidovich’s assailants as saying, “We know you are the rabbi of AMIA.”
Knoblovits said the robbery was merely a pretext for “an anti-Semitic act.”
“In the world, there is a lot of room for ignorance, and where there is ignorance, there is space for anti-Semites,” he said.
Argentina has one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, with 190,000 people.
Argentine authorities have opened an investigation into the attack, which followed the desecration of nine tombs at a Jewish cemetery in the province of San Luis over the weekend.
Police have not said if they are investigating the attack as a hate crime, and some have questioned if the assailants had anti-Semitic motives, including the rabbi’s son.
“They didn’t say it was anti-Semitic, they just said he was the Jewish community’s rabbi so he must have a lot of money and they beat him up badly,” Aryeh Davidovich told Israel’s Walla news website.
During the attack, the rabbi and his wife put up no resistance, but the assailants threw Davidovich to the ground.
“They broke nine of his ribs, affecting a lung, and left him disfigured,” Knoblovits said.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri sent a tweet repudiating the attack and vowing aid to find the attackers.
His human rights secretary, Claudio Avruj, said that Argentina needs to build a society “where there are no signs of anti-Semitism, and we cannot be indifferent.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Davidovich and his wife were “viciously assaulted” and condemned the incident as part of an anti-Semitic wave.
“We must not let anti-Semitism rear its head. I strongly condemn the recent acts of anti-Semitism and call on the international community to take action against it,” Netanyahu said.
He spoke to Davidovich and called for the perpetrators to be swiftly caught, according to a statement from his office late Tuesday.
Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental body that deals with Jewish immigration to Israel, said after speaking to the rabbi that “he suffers from severe pain and fractures, but his spirit is strong.”
“I had the sense from his remarks that the incident had obvious anti-Semitic characteristics. I wished him a full recovery from all of us. The Jewish Agency will help him and his community as much as necessary,” he said.
The attack comes against the backdrop of increased anti-Semitism in western countries.
Germany — where anti-Semitic offenses rose almost 10 percent last year — has watched with alarm as anti-Semitic and other racist hate speech and violence has increased in recent years, as the political climate has coarsened and grown more polarized.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron told Jewish community leaders last week that anti-Semitism had reached its worst levels since World War II.
“Our country, and for that matter all of Europe and most Western democracies, seems to be facing a resurgence of anti-Semitism unseen since World War II,” Macron told an annual gathering of French Jewish institutions last week.
He was speaking after nearly 100 Jewish tombstones were spray-painted with blue and yellow swastikas at a cemetery in the Alsace region near Germany.
A mass influx of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants to Germany from 2015 drove the rise of the far-right and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is now the biggest opposition group in parliament.
Leading AfD members, aside from railing against Islam and multiculturalism, have also made comments that play down the Holocaust.
1990s bombings of Jewish targets
Argentina’s Jewish community has experienced brutal attacks in the past.
The headquarters of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association was the target of a 1994 bombing that killed 85 people and wounded 300.
Two years earlier, a suicide bomber killed 29 in an attack on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires.
Both bombings have been blamed on Iran-supported operations by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, but Iran has denied responsibility.
In 2017, Netanyahu visited Argentina and attended memorial ceremonies for both attacks.