Since Jews went into golus, it has often been a struggle to find places to settle down in a hostile world. A suggestion of Theodor Herzl’s in 1896, which was dropped almost immediately, returned to haunt Jews in the 1970s and contributed to a ruckus in Argentina as late as 2012.
CAPITAL OF THE GREAT LATIN AMERICAN JEWISH NATION
In her book Searching for Life, which discusses Argentina’s period of military oppression lasting from 1976 to 1983, Rita Arditti writes that Argentina’s anti-Semitism “runs deep in the fabric of national consciousness” since colonial times, when conversos and Jews were targeted by the Inquisition. There was also “Tragic Week” in 1919, when communists and anarchists rioted in the capital, Buenos Aires. This prompted the right-wing Argentine Patriotic League to initiate pogroms in the Russian-Jewish sections of the city where many Jews were beaten, shot and killed.
At the beginning of World War II, the Argentine Nazi Party boasted 60,000 members. German influence was strong due to the presence of many German immigrants and Argentina’s traditional rivalry with Great Britain which, decades later, contributed to the Falklands War in 1982. Argentina only joined the Allies’ side in March 1945, when Germany was obviously on the ropes and it made good sense to be on the winning side.
Anti-Semitism was rife under the dictatorship of Juan Domingo Peron, which lasted from 1946 until 1955, and during the military juntas that followed. Argentina was a favored haven for wanted Nazis, providing refuge for thousands of Nazis, collaborators and war criminals including Joseph Mengele and Adolf Eichman. Attacks against Jews became commonplace and anti-Semitic literature flourished. Over a thousand Jews simply disappeared during Argentina’s years of military rule.
During Argentina’s military rule, a longstanding myth sprang to life. Kidnapped Jews were interrogated about the Andinia Plan, an alleged Jewish plot to seize a huge chunk of the Patagonian province that lies in the south of Argentina and Chile and transform it into an alternative homeland for Jews reluctant to move to the beleaguered Middle East.
The principle inventor of the myth, politician Walter Allende, developed it in the 1970s in a leaflet named Plan Andinia, which appeared in the Argentinean Army in 1971 and has circulated in anti-Semitic circles ever since.
According to Walter, the Jews “aspire to make Argentina the capital of the great Latin American Jewish nation. The plan implies the concession of sovereignty over a portion of the land surface to the ‘Society of Jews’ because Theodor Herzl’s original plan included two Jewish states.”
The myth was based on actual proposals for organized Jewish immigration to South American in the 19th and 20th centuries, although none of them involved setting up a Jewish state. Theodor Herzl was indeed attracted by a plan of the Jewish Colonization Association to support Jewish agricultural settlements in Argentina, but only considered it as a possible alternative to Palestine and never took concrete steps to actualize it.
This happened long before Herzl considered setting up a Jewish state in Uganda. In his 1896 book titled, The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution to the Jewish Question, he vacillated whether to set up a state in Palestine or Argentina (chapter 2).
“Shall we choose Palestine or Argentina?” he wondered. “We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by Jewish public opinion. The Society will determine both these points. Argentina is one of the most fertile countries in the world, extends over a large area, has a sparse population and a mild climate. The Argentine Republic would derive considerable profit from the cession of a portion of its territory to us. The present infiltration of Jews has certainly produced some discontent, and it would be necessary to enlighten the Republic on the intrinsic difference of our new environment.”
Then he goes over to the Palestine alternative.
“Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home,” he concedes. “The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvelous potency. If His majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey.”
Although Herzl soon dropped the Argentina plan, many other Jews latched onto the idea. Large numbers of Jews moved to Argentina over the decades, many participating in a major Jewish settlement effort in the Entre Rios Province of northern Argentina alongside other European settlements. Jews were attracted to other South American countries as well.
THE EINSTEIN PLAN
As an aside, during the 1930s, Albert Einstein was involved in the rush to urgently ship unwanted European Jews to whatever country would take them. In 1930, plans were afoot to ship 20,000 Eastern European Jews from Germany, where the Ost Yidden (Eastern Jews) were unwelcome, to Peru. Albert Einstein, who lived in Berlin at the time, wrote to German-Jewish banker Max Moritz Warburg to offer his help.
“Mr. v. Maltzahn told me that you were interested in the Peru colonization project for Jews from the East,” Einstein wrote. “Even, that you are willing to somehow actively participate in this matter. Since I know that my name has certain advertising powers when it comes to Jews, and because I do find this project noteworthy, I would like to let you know that I am prepared to do anything that you need to promote this issue (or any clarification you may need first), and tell you anything you want to know. Maybe there truly is a possibility here to help a great part of the Jewish people find a healthy existence. Professor Oppenheimer informed me in the meantime that the land and climate are quite suitable.”
At a Berlin meeting that year, Jewish representatives gathered to hear of a proposal to move Jews to an area under settlement by European immigrants. A letter from Einstein was read, stating that in view of the desperate need for places to go to, every possibility should be thoroughly explored. But the Jewish representatives were not convinced of the scheme’s feasibility.
The biggest promoter of the Peru scheme, physician Julius Brutzkus, was frustrated that “the responsible Jewish organizations took up a negative stand… to any organized measures for… a regulated Jewish immigration to Peru,” while non-Jewish groups were moving in.
A BURNING ISSUE
Getting back to the Andinia plan, by the 1970s, many right-wing Argentineans believed not only that Jews had rekindled the idea of colonizing Argentina, but also thought that the IDF was to take an active part in invading Patagonia, a huge area in the south of Argentina and Chile. During interrogations, Jewish prisoners were sometimes tortured to reveal details of the scheme.
At one stage even liberal newspapers wrote of a plan to settle 25,000 Israeli in Argentina to bolster the regime of Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín, president of Argentina after the fall of its last military dictatorship in 1983.
The Andinia Plan resurfaced in 2012 when a huge fire raged through the environmental preserve of the Torres del Paine Park in Chilean Patagonia. 23-year-old Israeli tourist Rotem Singer was questioned for his failure to extinguish a small fire. He claimed afterwards that he had denied causing the fire but that mistranslation during his trial led the court to think he had pleaded guilty.
Congressman Fuad Chahin, a member of the Christian Democratic Party, and other politicians suggested that since the suspected perpetrator was sent to Peru to recuperate after “killing Palestinian children,” Israel should be responsible to pay for the damage he caused.
The Chilean website Verdad Ahora (The Truth Now) noted that some Argentinean journalists went further, claiming that the large number of IDF veterans traveling in Chile were coming not merely for post IDF service vacations, but to put the Andinia Plan into action.
The purported purpose of the fire was to encourage Argentina and Chile, with the encouragement of large landowners, to declare the area “under United Nations protection,” and from there it would be a small step to set up a Jewish state, just as the State of Israel was finalized under UN auspices.
The tense situation prompted Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, to denounce the rabble rousers:
“The outrageous and bigoted scapegoating of Jews and Israel in the Patagonian fires needs to stop right now,” he said in a statement. “Irrespective of whether or not the Israeli individual was responsible for the fire, there is absolutely no justification for these kinds of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories have absolutely no place in Chilean society and no place in the blame game that’s being waged in the aftermath of the fires.
“It is shocking that the fires are breathing new life into age-old conspiracy theories about Jews wanting to take over Patagonian land, and it is even more troubling that some of these anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are apparently being fueled and spread online by members of the Chilean parliament who hold positions of authority. Once again, at a time of tragedy, we see that anti-Semitism is being brought to the surface in Chilean society, and it is the responsibility of Chile’s leadership to speak out and to condemn it forthrightly as unacceptable.”
Foxman welcomed the Presidents of the Party for Democracy and the Christian Democratic Party for distancing themselves from the canards made by parliamentarians of their parties and urged other politicians and leaders to speak out.
Sadly, it is always easier to invent a myth than to halt one.
(Sources include: Rita Arditti, Searching for Life –The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles California, 1999)