Rabbi poised to reshape politics in Argentina

By Jonathan Gilbert, September 1, 2013
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Rabbi Bergman

Rabbi Bergman

A prominent rabbi is set to win a seat in Argentina’s congress after storming to victory in primary elections.

Sergio Bergman would be the first rabbi in the history of the South American country to represent voters in national parliament.

Mr Bergman, 51, is a reform rabbi and local politician who is famous for his big, multi-coloured kippah, which he wears in campaign posters plastered across Buenos Aires.

He is heading the list of candidates in the capital that the PRO, a centre-right party, has put forward for the lower house of congress.

Argentina’s mid-term legislative elections take place in October, but a primary vote was held this month in which Mr Bergman overcame president Cristina Kirchner’s candidate by more than eight per cent.

Mr Bergman is a fierce opponent of Mrs Kirchner’s government, which critics say has become increasingly authoritarian.

“In parliament, I would lobby to repeal decisions that are effectively being taken by the presidency alone,” Mr Bergman told the JC, naming a controversial reform of the judicial system and a recent pact with Iran.

The pact calls for the creation of joint truth commission to investigate the bombing in 1994 of Argentina’s main Jewish association, AMIA, which killed 85 people. The government claims it is necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice. But the 200,000-strong Jewish community is furious, insisting it will only result in the impunity of the Iranians accused of masterminding the attack.

“We don’t know the details of the pact,” Mr Bergman says, adding that it is “unconstitutional”. “We don’t know why it was really signed. It’s very dangerous. If Argentines give [the opposition] a mandate, we will do everything to reverse this terrible decision.”

Mr Bergman, who is close to Pope Francis and travelled to the Vatican soon after he was elected earlier this year, made his first foray into politics in 2011 when he became a legislator in the Buenos Aires municipal parliament.

He continues to practise as a rabbi in the Libertad shul in downtown Buenos Aires, the city’s oldest. “The roles of politician and religious leader are two sides of the same coin,” Mr Bergman says. “Jews are a minority here and I collaborate on both fronts to make sure we are better assimilated.”

Mr Bergman, who studied biochemistry and oversees a foundation dedicated to education and social work in the Jewish community, is also close to Mauricio Macri.

Mr Macri is the mayor of Buenos Aires, president of the PRO and a likely presidential candidate in 2015. He has called the AMIA pact a “black stain” on Argentina and Mr Bergman has described him as “a friend of Israel”.

Last updated: 6:45pm, September 1 2013