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July 19: The Sandinistas, the Contras, and the ADL

July 18, 2015

tumblr_lpbwsoeCYP1qft3neo4_250The Sandinistas overthrew the dictatorship of the Somoza family in Nicaragua on this date in 1979 and established a socialist regime. Within two years, the Reagan Administration in Washington would be seeking to undermine that regime through many dirty tricks, including the funding and training of the contras, paramilitary fighters who terrorized pro-Sandinista communities and drained Nicaragua of its scant resources (and murdered Benjamin Linder, an American Jewish volunteer). In 1983, after the Managua synagogue was bombed, the Anti-Defamation League “issued a meagerly sourced report claiming that Nicaragua’s Sandinista government systematically repressed and forced into exile the country’s tiny Jewish community,” write Eric Wingerter and Justin Delacour at The ADL report gave new moral impetus for the Reagan Administration’s sabotage, until New Jewish Agenda sent to Nicaragua a delegation of Jewish leaders, who found no evidence of special discrimination against the Jewish community. This provided cover for Jewish liberal leaders such as Rabbis Balfour Brickner and Alexander M. Schindler (head of the Reform movement) to dismiss the allegations and oppose President Reagan’s Nicaragua policy. The reality was that the Jewish community of Nicaragua, about fifty-strong, did flee the country, in part because of their business connections, which made them liable to confiscatory policies under the Sandinistas, and in part because of the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric of the Sandinistas, which occasionally shaded into anti-Semitism. The conflict between the ADL and Jewish liberals marked an enduring split within the American Jewish community between its liberal mainstream and and its neoconservative camp. The detestable Elliott Abrams, son-in-law of Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz, was Reagan’s coordinator of U.S.-contra relations and a major player in the Iran-Contra Affair.

“Israel provided military assistance to the Somoza dictatorship from the 1950s right up to the Sandinistas’ overthrow of Somoza in 1979.... Then, in the mid-1980s, Israeli arms dealers funneled weapons to right-wing Nicaraguan mercenaries — mostly Somoza’s former National Guardsmen — who fought to overthrow the Sandinistas.” —