In 2006, Venezuela witnessed the continuation of a number of worrying antisemitic trends, which intensified
after the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Notably, the tone was set by
government circles, with the support of President Hugo Chavez.
The Jewish Community
The Jewish population continues to decline as a
result of severe instability in the country. There are probably no more than
15,000 Jews remaining, down from 20,000 before the current political and
economic crisis, out of a total population of close to 26 million. Most of the
Jews live in the capital Caracas, while the second largest community is in
Maracaíbo. The Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de
Venezuela (CAIV) embraces five organizations: Asociación Israelita de
Venezuela (Sephardi), Unión Israelita de Caracas (Ashkenazi), the
Zionist Organization, B'nai Brith and Organization of Jewish Women. All but one
of the 15 synagogues are Orthodox and over 75 percent of school-age children
attend Jewish schools. The community publishes the newspaper Nuevo Mundo
Israelita and recently inaugurated a website, www.caiv.org.
In recent years poverty levels have soared to 80 percent and the middle and
upper middle classes that account for the great majority of the Jewish
community have been especially hard hit as their assets are eroded.
Antisemitic and Anti-Zionist Propaganda
The extremely anti-Israel/anti-Zionist stand of the government, backed by
the official and semi-official media, has given rise to a trend in Venezuela of
demonizing the State of Israel, relativizing the Holocaust and employing Arab
antisemitic propaganda and traditional antisemitic motifs to legitimize the
country's stand toward current political events, such as the 2006 war in
Venezuela tightened its ties with Iran in 2006. In February, the two countries signed an agreement stressing the threat posed
by the manufacture, development and accumulation of nuclear arms to world
peace, but justifying the right of every people to the peaceful use of nuclear
energy. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro attended the "Third International
Conference of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" in April in Iran, where he promised solidarity with all the Arab and Islamic world if the US attacked Iran, and support for Iran's nuclear development, and proposed "mass destruction of nuclear
weapons beginning with the US, European countries and Israel."
An outstanding feature of the new antisemitic
discourse in Venezuela during 2006 was the blending of old and new antisemitic
stereotypes using religious themes (Judas, deicide, usurers, etc.), on the one
hand, and modern ones (Jews as capitalists, Zionist racists, etc.), on the
other. To make the Zionist threat seem
more immediate, some commentators stressed that Venezuela, too, was a victim of
the Zionists. Writing of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's condemnation of the police
raid of the Hebraica Club in 2004 (see ASW 2004),
for example, journalist Afif Tajeldine claimed in the
article "A Zionist Challenge to Venezuela," posted on Aporrea online (16
Jan.) that it was farcical that this "instrument of international Zionism" [the
Wiesenthal Center], pretended to defend the Jewish people. The Zionists had
succeeded in segregating the Jewish people from the rest of the world and turning
a religious nation-state into a bastion of capitalism. "We must remove the
masque of Zionism and reveal it as a grotesque, racist, egoistic, segregationist philosophy and the government of the State of
Israel as a terrorist state responsible for the new Palestinian holocaust. [Zionists]
are the usurers of history, the Judas, the Pharisees."
Other critics emphasized Israel's racist motives in Palestine. Journalist Susana Khalil, in an article entitled "Al Nakba" (The Catastrophe)
published in the daily pro-government Diario Vea (11 June), alleged that
the plan was "to create a macabre scenario of terrorizing and threatening the
native population in order to make them flee Palestine so that [the Zionists] might
create a state solely for themselves." "On 14 May 1948," she continued, "Europeans, Russians [and] Jewish-Zionists, mostly Ashkenazim [meaning non-Semites],"
had succeeded in "creating and imposing in Palestine the nation-state of Israel,"
which was based on "the extermination of the native people" who had been living
there continuously for generations. Khalil believes that the solution to the
conflict is to create one state, in order to "put an end to segregation and
apartheid," to "restore the history of love between Arabs and Jews, destroyed
by Zionism," and to "liberate the Jews from racist Zionism."
Linking the US and Zionism/Israel is particularly
effective in strengthening anti-|Zionist feeling in Venezuela. Vladimir Acosta claimed
on his program on Radio Nacional de Venezuela (16 Jan.) that US and Zionist
groups, among others, were trying to convince people that President Chavez was
antisemitic. He cited the allegation made by Zionist organizations, such as the
Wiesenthal Center, that Chavez's 'Nativity' speech of December 2005 (see ASW 2005)
was anti-Jewish in order to exemplify their attempts to portray the president
as an enemy of the Jewish people. Zionists had a hold over
the US, he asserted, and many Zionists were American citizens, who worked to
further Israel's "colonialist racist policies and organize wars in the Middle East." Injecting another antisemitic element into his argument, he added that
anyone who questioned the figure of six million dead in the
Holocaust was an antisemite, according to the Israeli government. On 12
June, Acosta, alleged there were two murderous governments, the US and Israel, and repeated the claim made by other antisemites prior to the Lebanon war that Israel was a "genocidal, terrorist, racist state."
Acosta denies being an antisemite, only "anti-Zionist"
or "critical of the State of Israel." In his program of 15 February he
spoke of the concept of antisemitism. Antisemitism, he said, "has become an arm
used by Jewish Zionists, an ultra-right and reactionary wing of the Jewish
movement" to cover up and justify the crimes of the State of Israel and attack
all those who denounce those crimes.
Another trend was to draw a wedge between the Jewish
people, differentiating between 'Zionists' and Diaspora Jews. For example, in
the article "Los judíos sionistas" published in El Diario de Caracas
(2 Sept. - see also General
Analysis), Tarek Muci Nasir
(pseudonym) called on the Jewish people "to dissociate themselves from the
genocidal Zionists as the only way to be accepted among the nations." Others,
such as Congressman Adel El Zabayar, from the official MVR party, praised the Orthodox
Jewish sect Naturei Karta as 'good Jews' because they oppose Zionism and the
State of Israel (Aporrea online, 26 March).
Jews continue to be blamed for the 9/11 bombings in
the US. On 26 March, Congressman Adel El Zabayar (see above) alleged on Aporrea
online that although 2,600 Jews worked in the World Trade Center, Israeli
security forces had alerted them and only people of Arab and Latin origin were
harmed. He also accused Israel of involvement in the putsch against Chavez on 11 April 2002. On the TV program "Dando y dando," on the official Venezolana de
Televisión (3 March), moderators Tania Díaz and Freddy
Fernández discussed 9/11 with two survivors, one of whom claimed that it
was "well known that several Jews who worked in the Twin Towers didn't come to
work that day."
Defending President Ahmadinejad's declarations on the
Holocaust made in 2006 (see General
Analysis), Luis Fuenmayor, former rector of the Central University of
Venezuela and a pro-Chavez militant, wrote in the daily
pro-Chavez Últimas Noticias (3 May), that
Ahmadinejad did not deny the Holocaust of the Jews but had only stated that the
Europeans should "indemnify the Jews and give them territories since it [the
Holocaust] was perpetrated in Europe." Vladimir Acosta similarly supported Ahmadinejad
in his Radio Nacional de Venezuela program (24 May).
For a detailed analysis of Iranian influence on Venezuela and the anti-Zionist/antisemitic stand of the Venezuelan government, encouraged
by Chavez himself, see General Analysis.