His father was a human rights icon. He’s in the middle of a scandal with a dead prosecutor.

The World
Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman, shown at home June 21,199.

What would the late Jacobo Timerman have to say about his son, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman?

In the background of Argentina’s seedy murder mystery, focused on dead lawyer and investigator Alberto Nisman, is the unsolved 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. It killed 85 people. It is a mystery that may have connections running up to President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner’s front door.

Also lurking in the background — and just as intriguing — are a father and son who figure among the who’s who of Argentine Jewry. The mystery lands at Hector Timerman's door as well.

His father, Jacobo Timerman, was born in then-Soviet Ukraine in 1923, but his family fled the pogroms to Argentina. He’d become one of the country’s most prominent journalists, taking enormous risks while reporting on the human rights violations of the military junta in the 70s, at the start of a period of tens of thousands of kidnappings and killings known as the Dirty War. 

And as a Zionist, he also fended off anti-Semitic attacks. Anti-Semitism increased in Argentina in the 70s, and during the Dirty War, Timerman saw “extremist sectors of the army” — the military junta — at what he called “the heart of Nazi operations in Argentina.” 

Because Jacobo Timerman’s newspaper, La Opinion, got a lot of financial backing from a banker wanted by the junta, the military arrested him in 1977. They tortured him. They jailed him. And later, under pressure from within Argentina and from foreign figures from President Jimmy Carter to actress Liv Ullman, he was released, his citizenship revoked, and he had to live in exile for years. During that time, he wrote a best-selling account of his incarceration, "Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.''

Jacobo’s story contrasts sharply with that of his son, Hector.

His backstory: He grew up with Jacobo as a role model. Before diplomacy, he was a journalist and writer. His first job: Editor-in-chief at La Tarde, a newspaper owned by his father. That was 1976, and his career in journalism would fade as he became a more vocal advocate for human rights.

In the past 10 years, he’s held three posts in the country’s diplomatic service, all under President Fernandez: consul general to New York, ambassador to the US, and foreign minister. He took that post in 2010, and put solving the 1994 bombing at the top of his agenda.

But that track record appears oddly compromised now.

Alberto Nisman, the slain prosecutor, was about to present his findings on the 1994 bombing of the Jewish center to lawmakers, but ended up with a bullet in his head. Fernandez first maintained it was a suicide, then said it wasn’t, and then movws to disband the country’s intelligence services. Enter a trove of garbage found at Nisman’s apartment, and this newly announced arrest warrant for President Fernandez. Hector Timerman is also named in that affidavit.

So what happened?  Why did Alberto Nisman want Hector Timerman arrested?  Suspicion might lead to this narrative: Nisman already accused Iran and Hezbollah back in 2006 that they planted the bomb at the Jewish center in 1994. And Nisman believed that even though Argentina and Iran agreed two years ago to cooperate in investigating the bombing, another secret deal was struck that would shield Iran from prosecution in exchange for Iranian oil.

I would like to ask Mr. Timerman: You are a former human rights advocate, a man whose family lived through multiple anti-Jewish episodes. If there was indeed a secret deal to protect Iranian killers of scores of Jews, why would — and how could — you make this deal?

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.