Guillermo Borger was named Argentine Israeli Mutual Association's president Thursday, amid an angry debate over religious and cultural identity.
Borger is the first Orthodox man elected to head Argentina's largest Jewish organization. He assumed the presidency of amid an angry debate over his alleged comments that anyone who doesn't live strictly by the Old Testament isn't a genuine Jew.
Guillermo Borger tried to dispel fears that he would favor Orthodox Jews and their beliefs during his three-year tenure as president of the 22,000-member Argentine Israeli Mutual Association, known as AMIA.
"AMIA is, and will be, the representative of all Jews, without exclusion and with a spirit of dialogue," Borger said in a speech Thursday night. Borger is the group's first Orthodox president in its 114-year history.
On Saturday, Buenos Aires' leading newspaper Clarin ignited a controversy when it quoted Borger as saying that "genuine Jews" are those who "Lead a life based on everything that is dictated in the Torah, our sacred book."
"It's a paradox that people call themselves Jews if they don't practice the religion," Borger added, according to the newspaper.
Borger, a 59-year-old businessman, denied having made the remarks in a communiqué he sent to the nation's Jewish community. However, Clarin stands by its story. "What we published is what he said," Clarin editor-in-chief Julio Blank told the Associated Press.
Argentina's 250,000-person Jewish community was divided Thursday between Borger's backers and those who worry his alleged comments will divide the AMIA: "We respect Orthodox Jews' way of life and we want them to respect us too," said Agustin Ulanovsky, a 22-year-old law student who joined about 200 people protesting Borger's statements Thursday at his inauguration.
"We are all Jews!" They shouted, booing at the mention of Borger's name and drowning out remarks during the opening ceremony, which was televised on a large screen to accommodate a huge crowd.
A majority of Argentine Jews follow Conservative and Reform streams of the faith. Even if Borger never made the disputed comments, damage has been done, said engineer and community leader Mario Goijman, who called his alleged words, "fundamentalist." "Borger's statements unfortunately establish a base for discrimination," Goijman said.