The real story behind the spy who infiltrated Argentina’s Jewish community

from Amazon Prime Yosi, the regrettable spy unmasks the dangerous consequences of irrational anti-Semitism, and the non-Jewish spy who has come to regret his role in the terrorist attacks against Jews.

Based on a true story, Amazon Prime’s hit series Yosi, the regrettable spy focuses on “Yosi”, aka Jose Perez, who was a secret agent sent by the Argentine government to infiltrate the Argentine Jewish community. The show has been given the green light for a second season.

For twenty years, Perez lived as a Jew, hiding his true origins and seemingly falling in love with Jewish culture and life. As a Yosi, he married (and later divorced) a Jewish woman and eventually converted to Judaism. “He really was a very good candidate to be Jewish,” Rabbi Mauricio Balter, the rabbi who believed he converted Yosi in 1988, recently said. The post of Jerusalem. “Now I understand that he was also a good actor.”

Yosi believed that the reconnaissance he provided to Argentine intelligence officials contributed to the worst terrorist attacks in Argentine history: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Both attacks killed and maimed hundreds of people.

Jewish community in Argentina

Jews have lived in Argentina for centuries. Historians have traced converse, or Secret Jews, who settled in the Spanish colony following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Life was difficult for the Secret Jews of Argentina. The Inquisition did not officially end until 1810 when Argentina gained independence from Spain.

Jews began to settle in the new country, seeking religious freedom. In the late 1800s, the trickle of Jews moving into Argentina became, in the words of historian Ricardo Feierstein, a “downpour.” Millions of immigrants, including tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews, settled in Argentina. The capital Buenos Aires has become a melting pot. Jewish quarters were filled with synagogues, Jewish schools and Yiddish theaters.

“Barón Hirsch” Agricultural Cooperative of Rivera, Province of Buenos Aires.

In 1914, Buenos Aires was the second largest city on the east coast of the Americas, after New York. About 150,000 Jews lived in Argentina at the time.

Of the thousands of Jews who settled in Argentina, 824 Russian Jews sailed to Argentina in 1889 on the ship SS Weser and settled in northeastern Argentina, determined to become farmers. With the help of Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch, they established the Jewish Colonization Association, purchased over 600,000 hectares of land, and founded the town of Moisevills. At its height, more than 2,000 Jews lived in Moisevills, working as herders and farmers. The city still exists today, although its population has dropped precipitously and few Jews remain.

This experiment in Jewish self-governance was to have tragic consequences for Argentine Jews, as the series Yosi, the regrettable spy makes it clear.

Growing anti-Semitism

With the growing Jewish community came growing anti-Semitism. During the “tragic week” (tragic week) strikes and communal violence that rocked Buenos Aires in January 1919, many far-right political groups and sympathizers expressed their anger against Jews, openly calling for pogroms against Argentina’s Jewish community. Hundreds of Jewish homes were attacked and looted, and Jews were expelled from their homes and violently beaten in the streets.

Gustavo Bassani as Yosi in Amazon Prime Yosi, the regrettable spywalks through the rubble after the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association.

Nazi sympathizers had long been prominent in Argentina. In 1946, the country elected Juan Peron as president. He was openly sympathetic to Nazis fleeing justice in Europe and opened Argentina up to many former Nazi war criminals. At the same time, Peron reduced Jewish immigration to his country.

During the period of military rule in Argentina, from 1976 to 1983, many pro-democracy activists who were kidnapped and tortured by the military junta were Jewish. It is estimated that between 1,000 and 9,000 Argentine Jews were murdered during this time.

One of the persistent anti-Jewish myths in Argentina is the so-called “Plan Andinia”. Long a staple of far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Argentina, this false theory dates back to when Jewish ranchers organized to buy farmland in Argentina in the 1800s. The “Plan Andinia” is a hoax: supposedly a top secret plan hatched by Argentine Jews to take over the Patagonia region of the country and establish a Jewish state or colony there. This dangerous slur against the Jews of Argentina has helped foment anti-Semitism in Argentina and the wider Spanish-speaking world for generations.

Dispatch of Yosi to investigate anti-Jewish conspiracy theories

In 1985, Jose Perez, a non-Jew, was assigned to infiltrate the Jewish community in Argentina. His first mission was to justify the “Andinia Plan”. Adopting the Hebrew name Yosi, Perez became acquainted with local Jews, eventually embracing a Jewish life he created as a cover. As he familiarized himself with Argentine Jewish life, he soon realized the absurdity of Andinia’s conspiracy theory.

In the TV series, Yosi shows his superior intelligence officers a video he took of local Jewish community leaders laughing at the Andinia hoax. A Jewish character chuckles: “It’s an anti-Semitic myth. It’s been going on for decades. It’s old.”

When Yosi shows this video to his superiors, they insist on clinging to the discredited conspiracy theory. “Don’t be fooled, Jose,” they tell him. “They tell the myth to protect themselves, to make it absurd. But the plan is real. It exists and it’s complex…” Countering prejudice with reason can be futile.

Terrorist attacks against Jewish targets

On March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with explosives to the gate of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and blew up the truck. The embassy building was completely destroyed. Twenty-nine people were killed and 242 were injured.

A man walks on the rubble after a bomb exploded at the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 1994.

Two years later, on July 18, 1994, another truck loaded with explosives was driven towards a Jewish target, this time towards the Association Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), a popular Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The driver blew up his truck, killing 87 people and injuring more than 300. A recent report by the Israeli government revealed that the attack was the work of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization supported by Iran. The authors, the report concludes, now live in freedom in Lebanon.

While Argentine government forces were not behind the attacks, there have been lingering suspicions that Argentine leaders helped cover up Iran’s involvement in the attacks. In 2005, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman – who had been the principal investigator of the AMIA attack – announced that he intended to bring criminal charges against then-president Cristina Kirchner and the Foreign Secretary Hector Timerman for concealing evidence in the AMIA bombing and for secretly dealing with Iran in violation of international sanctions.

Just hours before he appeared before Argentina’s congress to explain the charges, Nisman was murdered in his home.

The aftermath of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 18, 1994. (AFP)

By this time, after years of impersonating a Jew, Jose Perez was thoroughly disillusioned with the anti-Semitism he observed within the Argentine intelligence establishment. When the bombings happened, and it looked like Argentine officials were helping to cover up Iran’s involvement in the bombings, he felt deep regret. He eventually left the intelligence service and offered everything he knew to Alberto Nisman’s office. Fearing for his life, Perez entered a witness protection program and left Argentina.

In 2000, he contacted two Argentine Jewish journalists, Miriam Lewin and Horacio Lutzky, and told them he wanted to tell them his story. He was convinced that Argentine officials were helping to cover up the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and AMIA. “I’m not who you think I am,” he told Horacio Lutzky, whom he had seen in the Jewish areas of Argentina. “I am not Jewish. I’m a spy, a special agent in the community.

“During her mission, Yosi provided the Federal Police with movement details, identities, lists of names, schedules, meetings and sketches of the interiors of community buildings,” says Miriam Lewin. He was dismayed that in the aftermath of the AMIA bombing, the federal police did not prioritize finding the culprits and continued to demand that he spy on the Jewish community instead of searching. clues to the identity of the suicide bomber.

Manufacturing Yosi, the regrettable spy

Daniel Burman, the Jewish Argentinian director who created Yosi, the regrettable spy, lived through the terrorist attacks of 1992 and 1994. On March 17, 1992, he was walking to his parents’ house in Buenos Aires. “Suddenly, I heard the howl of sirens,” he recalls. When the AMIA building was bombed two years later, it was even closer.

“I live just five blocks from AMIA,” Burman said. The Times of Israel. I saw people walking in the chaos and all the lights were out in the area.

He thought for a long time about making a film or a TV series about these attacks, but never felt the time was right. Then, in 2017, he walks into a bookstore and realizes he has the perfect vehicle to tell the story of the attacks. Miriam Lewin and Horacio Lutzky’s new book on Perez had just been released. Iossi. El Espia Arrepentido (Yosi, the regrettable spy) told the story of Perez, from his recruitment to spy on the Jewish community, to his decision to go to the federal prosecutor’s office and enter the witness protection program. It was a heartbreaking read.

“I called the writers and told them I needed their story because it was waiting for me,” Daniel Burman explained. “Once I started filming, I realized it was my life’s project.”

Today, Perez divides his time between an unknown location in Argentina and a foreign country. “We don’t know where he is, just that he is safe,” says Miriam Lewin, who interviewed him at length for her book. “But his life is destroyed. He feels lonely and disappointed – and he still wants to help bring justice to the families of the dead.

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