The violent anti-Semitic attack on a Caracas synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath did not happen in a vacuum. It was the latest manifestation of anti-Semitism in Venezuela, a country whose president, government officials, media commentators and others foster an atmosphere of intimidation against the Jewish community, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
In the weeks since Israel launched its operation against Hamas in Gaza, Venezuela’s Jewish community of approximately 15,000 has been the repeated target of hateful rhetoric, intimidation, vandalism of property and threats of organized boycotts, according to the ADL report, Chavez’s Venezuela: The Jewish Community Under Threat.
“The anti-Semites in Venezuela feel emboldened and empowered by the rhetoric and actions of President Hugo Chavez and his government,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.
“What is troubling about Venezuela is that anti-Semitism is being used as a political tool,” Mr. Foxman said. “Anti-Semitism is fostered by those at the highest levels of government, trickled down the government apparatus and left unchallenged by officials in the Chavez regime, the government-controlled media, and civic and religious leaders who support the regime in Venezuela.
Among the ADL’s findings:
- President Chavez engaged in a series of statements and actions in response to Israel’s operation in Gaza which were anti-Israel to the extreme, and even bordered on anti-Semitism. In response to the conflict, Chavez expelled Israel’s ambassador to Venezuela along with six other Israeli diplomats and officially severed relations with the State of Israel. He made statements calling in the Venezuelan Jewish community to speak out against the actions of Israel, and promoted a conspiracy theory that the Israeli Mossad and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were responsible for poisoning former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. In other statements, Chavez trivialized the Holocaust and equated Nazi efforts to exterminate Jews with the military actions of Israel against Hamas.
- The political machine built by Chavez echoed his statements in the press, on radio and television, in the streets of Caracas and in cities across Venezuela. During the Gaza crisis, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements were made by the foreign minister, interior minister, the president of the national assembly, a number of congress members, and governors across the country who support Chavez.
- A number of anti-Israel rallies were held in Venezuela, with many rallies co-sponsored by government officials. Nearly all of the rallies contained anti-Semitic references comparing Israel’s military actions to those of the Nazis during the Holocaust and used Nazi imagery to portray Israel’s policies. These rallies typically left behind anti-Semitic graffiti on synagogue walls, city plazas, Jewish owned businesses and the Israeli embassy.
- Opinion articles appearing in official government media and Web sites echoed anti-Semitic canards and promoted conspiracy theories and myths of Jewish financial influence, Jewish control of U.S. foreign policy, Jewish “responsibility” for the death of Jesus, and claimed Jews are “double agents” of Israel. Some openly called for the boycott of Jewish-owned businesses in Venezuela as well as multinational companies believed to be owned by Jews.
- A raft of anti-Semitic comments appeared on mainstream and government-related Web sites. The posts spread age-old myths about Jewish control of finances and economic interests and conspiracy theories about the Jewish lobby controlling the United States and its policies. Holocaust references abounded, with some comparing Israel to the Nazis, and others sending the message that “Hitler did not finish the job.”