Less than a month ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joined his Argentinean and Brazilian counterparts to sign the “2008 Declaration Against Anti-Semitism ”, under which the three countries agreed to “condemn racism, religious intolerance, racial discrimination and related intolerance.”
However, it wasn’t long before the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League were obliged to issue another round of their regular condemnations of Chavez, this time for comparing Israel’s counteroffensive against Hams to the Holocaust, and for expelling Israeli ambassador Shlomo Cohen shortly after that military offensive began earlier this month.
Approximately one thousand protestors in Caracas celebrated Cohen’s expulsion by spray painting graffiti on the Israeli consulate, smashed windows and throwing shoes and firecrackers at the building.
Aimee Kligman, who covers foreign policy for Examiner.com, reported that protesters “proceeded to stamp and burn the Israeli flag” – a gesture “unheard of until now” on the streets of Caracas.
Kligman also warned that a “mini-Kristallnact” might be in the works. “Sources which cannot be revealed because safety is a factor,” she wrote on January 8, “have confirmed that attacks are expected on Jewish businesses, schools [and] community centers.”
Sure enough, the next day Pynchas Breneer, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Venezuela, told The Jerusalem Post that Chavez had recently expropriated a Jewish owned shopping mall, and that Jewish schools in the capital would be closed “for a few days.”
The Chavez government has targeted Jewish schools before, most notoriously in 2004, when rumors of Mossad involvement in the assassination of a Venezuelan official prompted a fruitless raid on a Jewish grade school in search of “electronic equipment, arms” and other evidence connected with the murder.
At the time, the Stephen Roth Institute for The Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism decried the raid as “a way of threatening the Jewish community” at a time when “Chavez was visiting Iran for discussions on oil, an interest common to both these anti-American states.”
Three years later, the Venezuelan secret police conducted another unsuccessful search for weapons, this time at the Hebraic Social, Cultural and Sports Center, the most important gathering place for the country’s ever shrinking Jewish community. (The Latin American Jewish Congress estimates that Venezuela’s Jewish community has gone from an estimated 22,000 when Chavez was elected in 1999, to between 12,000 and 13,000 in 2008.)
No wonder, since Chavez has made numerous anti-Semitic public statements over the years, such as cautioning his opponents not to “be poisoned by wandering Jews” and calling the world’s wealthy “the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ.”
Last weekend, the Venezuelan President issued statements condemning Israel and the United States, addressed to both Palestinians and to Israeli anti-war activists on the left and the right.
“We are not united by one nationality,” said Chavez last Saturday, “Rather, what unites us is blood — the blood shed in Gaza is the blood of humanity. Venezuela kisses each and every one of you and stresses that it supports the Palestinian people and all those who suffer from the occupation.”
Then Venezuela sent a cargo plane to the Gaza Strip by way of Cairo, reportedly loaded with tons of medical supplies “and other materials.” In a radio address, Chavez called Israel “the murder arm of the United States” and accused it of “waging a Holocaust against the Palestinian people” and promised another “humanitarian shipment” would be on its way to Gaza next week.
Meanwhile, reports Aimee Kligman, those three Latin American signators of that “2008 Declaration of Anti-Semitism” are scheduled to meet again on January 19. However, Kligman says it would be “naive” to expect the leaders of Brazil and Argentina to chastise Chavez for breaching so quickly the agreement they’d all just signed.
“What is even more ironic,” writes Kligman, “is that the home page of the World Jewish Congress [WJC] touts a headline that demonstrates they are not keeping current with events. It reads: ‘WJC welcomes clear commitment by Latin American leaders.’ Someone get an alarm clock please.”
For years, Chavez has felt free to flout world opinion and his own signed agreements when it comes to anti-Semitism and other issues, Kligman believes, because “U.S. foreign policy, as dictated by Bush,” is to avoid “engaging with our enemies.”
Kligman adds, “Surely, this is not a policy that should be perpetuated by the Obama leadership.”