The intimidation of Jews in Venezuela...
An update from Chavez's Venezuela...
In 1998, the year Hugo Chavez was elected president, there were 22,000 Jews in Venezuela. Today the Jewish population is estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000.
Those numbers tell a story, and it's not a happy one. The Jews of Venezuela are fleeing to Miami, Madrid and elsewhere because of the anti-Semitism they face at home. In an interview this week in Washington, D.C., the country's chief rabbi sounds a warning bell: "There's anxiety in the Jewish community because of what has happened," says Rabbi Pynchas Bremer, "and of course because of what may happen."
Mr. Chavez's vitriol about Jews is well documented and of long standing. In recent years he has referred to Venezuelan Jews as "descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ" and "a minority [that] has taken ownership of all the gold of the planet." According to Shmuel Herzfeld, a Washington, D.C., rabbi who visited Venezuela in March: "Chavez is isolating the Jews and turning Venezuelans against the Jewish community. . . . The government is transforming a society that has been welcoming and accepting of Jews" in the past. Rabbi Bremer, who has lived in Venezuela for more than 40 years, says that he had never personally encountered anti-Semitism or heard of anti-Semitic incidents until recently.
This year has seen an intensification of attacks -- verbal and physical -- on Jews and Jewish institutions in Venezuela. In January, the largest Sephardic synagogue in Caracas was vandalized and desecrated. Among the slogans painted on the wall was "damned Jews, death to you." A list of members of the congregation was stolen. In February, another synagogue was attacked with a grenade. Eleven people have been arrested in the first attack.
The attacks on the two synagogues took place in the context of Mr. Chavez's tirades against Israel over its campaign in Gaza as well as his continuing charm offensive with Iran. In early January, the president expelled the Israeli ambassador, calling Israel's campaign a "holocaust." He demanded that Venezuelan Jews denounce Israel.
In January, a professor published an article online calling on citizens to boycott Jewish-owned businesses and confiscate the property of Jews who support Israel. He urged Venezuelans to "summon publicly every Jew found in the streets, squares, shopping malls, etc. and force them to take positions, screaming at them slogans in favor of Palestine and against the abortion-state of Israel." Change the language from Spanish to German, and this could be an anti-Semitic tract from the 1930s.
In a report to be released today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom puts Venezuela on a watch list of countries where religious freedom is threatened. "Anti-Semitic statements by government officials and state media," it says, "have created a hostile environment whereby some Venezuelan citizens have harassed and threatened rabbis, vandalized Jewish businesses with anti-Semitic slogans, and called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses in Venezuela." In a report on global anti-Semitism last year, the State Department listed Venezuela as a state sponsor of anti-Semitism.