Precedent Chavez: What the future looks like for the Jews of Venezuela

Jews in Venezuela are more nervous than ever following an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents since the death of Hugo Chavez

by The Commentator on 24 March 2013 23:56

Venezuela

Far from the elation that some may have thought would occur after the demise of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's vulnerable communities have been left with a sense of trepidation following the strong-arming of the country by his succesor, Nicolas Maduro.

Chavez may be gone, but the Jews of Venezuela are apparently not resting any easier.

Just this weekend, incidents of anti-Semitism were reported after grafitti was found scrawled on the walls and doors in the San Bernadino section of Caracas, the country's capital city. The graffiti contained messages such as “Jews are murderers, Jews out,” and several comments that implied that it was the Jews who were responsible for the death of Chavez.

Analysts and residents alike have noted that this is sadly not the first time since Chavez died last month that such messages have been projected on walls, flyers, and even in the media. Anti-Semitism in Venezuela has indeed risen since Chavez's death, making the Jewish community even more uncomfortable than it had previously been in the country - a tough feat to say the least.

David Lev writes that Nicolas Maduro, interim president of the country since Chavez's death, is an especially threatening figure for Venezuelan Jews: "He has been very forthright in his disapproval of Jews and Israel. Among other things, he accused Israel and the U.S. of targeting Chavez, killing him with poison, as, he claimed, they did to Yasser Arafat."

Chavez's own 'Jewish problem' has been well documented. Recently, there were revelations that Venezuela’s intelligence service, SEBIN, was spying on the country's Jewish communty. Over the past 14 years, Jews have been leaving the country in droves. When Chavez was elected in 1999, there were more than 20,000 Jews living in Venezuela. Today the community is estimated to have fallen to less than half that number.

Chavez also said the Mossad, Israel's secret service, was out to kill him and accused Israel of financing Venezuela’s opposition. Government media described Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader, as “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie.”

Members of the Jewish community and officials have felt it necessary to cancel events, among them a reception for a new Torah scroll that had been set to be donated to the central synagogue in Caracas.

Although police have promised to investigate the graffiti incidents, and said that they would not allow anyone to act violently against Jews, or any other group, in the country, the plight of the Jews in Venezuela will be the cause of great nervousness as the country itself is in flux. Jewish community officials said that they hoped that the events would not recur, though given the country's recent history in this area - there is no telling what more could happen.

“People are being taught to hate,” then-Venezuelan Chief Rabbi Pynchas Brener said in early 2009. “Venezuela has never seen anything like this before.”

Sammy Eppel, a Jewish activist in Venezuela told journalist Nora Zimmet, "...for the first time in recent history, I mean, we see what I would call government sponsored anti-Semitism in a Western country."

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