Argentine leader condemns attack on head rabbi as son doubts anti-Semitic motive

Macri vows support for Gabriel Davidovich; President Rivlin speaks with chief rabbi, declaring that Israel will protect Jews wherever they are

Argentina's chief rabbi Gabriel Davidovich at a ceremony at the site of the 1992 attack at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 11, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Argentina's chief rabbi Gabriel Davidovich at a ceremony at the site of the 1992 attack at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 11, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Argentina’s president on Tuesday condemned the violent assault on the country’s chief rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, vowing to support efforts to bring the attackers to justice.

The vow came as Israeli leaders and others condemned an assault they described as anti-Semitic, though Davidovich’s son cast doubt on Jew-hatred being behind the attack.

At 2 a.m. Monday morning, unknown assailants broke into the Buenos Aires home of Davidovich and beat him severely, breaking nine of his ribs. The intruders, who also stole valuables and money from the home, shouted: “We know you are the AMIA rabbi” during the attack, according to the local Jewish umbrella group.

“We denounce the attack that chief rabbi Gabriel Davidovich suffered in his home,” Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri wrote on Twitter. “We are with him as he recovers and he has our support for an investigation to find those responsible.”

Argentine President Mauricio Macri arrives for the 22nd anniversary event for the AMIA Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

His Israeli counterpart, Reuven Rivlin, called Davidovich “to find out how you are and to express my concern about the safety of the large Jewish community you lead,” according to a statement by Rivlin’s office.

“The State of Israel will do everything necessary to protect Jews wherever they choose to live and will take any steps to protect us from danger. We will not allow those who seek our harm to pursue us,” he added.

According to the La Nacion newspaper, police were investigating the crime as a robbery, though the local Jewish community and Israeli officials said the assault was anti-Semitic.

Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich. (courtesy AMIA)

However, Davidovich’s son cast doubt on the anti-Semitic motive.

“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.

“My father is recovering slowly, he’s slowly improving,” he added.

He also described the attack, saying his father had come out of his bedroom after hearing noises. He saw a man and tried to escape by going downstairs.

“Then they started shouting and three more burglars came from downstairs, pushed him on the stairs, beat him, bound him. He lost consciousness. They took my mother and asked for all the money she had, and she gave them everything she had,” Aryeh said.

He said the assailants also bound his mother, but she was unharmed.

Jorge Knoblovits, the president of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Aid Association (AMIA), said seven men were involved in the assault in a residential area of Buenos Aires.

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among many political leaders in Israel to condemn the attack, saying in a brief statement that “anti-Semitism must not be allowed to rear its head.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, his wife Sara, and Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, left, take part at a ceremony at the site of the 1992 attack at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 11, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

“I strongly condemn the recent surge in anti-Semitic incidents and I call upon the international community to act,” Netanyahu said.

Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog extended his well wishes, and said in a statement that it was “imperative we fight against the human garbage who are driven by their hatred of Jews.”

Davidovich was hospitalized in serious condition with several fractured ribs and a punctured lung, Argentinian media reported.

AMIA said in a statement that the comments by the attackers were cause for “alarm.”

“With extreme consternation, [AMIA]… expresses its deep concern,” the group said in a statement.

The Jewish community political group DAIA and others also called the attack anti-Semitic and urged authorities to take action.

World Jewish Congress CEO and executive vice president Robert Singer said the reported singling out of Davidovich as a Jew was “disturbing and worrisome.”

“It is not yet clear whether this was a targeted crime of hateful anti-Semitism or a barbaric criminal act, but we trust that the authorities will continue to do everything in their power to determine the motive and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Singer said.

Argentina’s 190,000-strong Jewish community is the largest in South America.

Tamar Pileggi, Joshua Davidovich and AFP contributed to this report.

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