For the first time in forty years xenophobic and racist elements surfaced
during the election campaigns held in Venezuela in 1998, including some
anti-Semitic manifestations in the popular press. Some tendencies to
minimize the Holocaust were also noted.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Venezuela's Jewish community numbers about 30,000 out of a total
population of nearly 22 million. Most of the Jews live in the capital Caracas,
while the second largest community is located in Maracaíbo. Jews began
settling in Venezuela in the early nineteenth century and were later joined
by small numbers of twentieth-century immigrants from North Africa,
Lebanon, Syria, the Balkans, and from Central and Eastern Europe. The
community grew from some 6,000 Jews in 1950 to its present size through
arrivals from Egypt, Hungary, Israel and from other Latin American countries.
The Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV)
embraces four organizations: Asociación Israelita de Venezuela (Sephardi),
Unión Israelita de Caracas (Ashkenazi), the Zionist Organization and B'nai
B'rith. All but one of the 15 synagogues are Orthodox and over 75 percent
of school-age children attend Jewish schools. The community publishes a
newspaper called Nuevo Mundo Israelita.
Elections were held in Venezuela in 1998, for the Congress and state
governorships on 8 November, and for the presidency on 6 December.
Acción Democrática became the country's strongest force. Hugo Chávez was
elected president with 57 percent of the votes and his coalition Polo
Patriotico, consisting of various groups, won 30 percent of the votes in the
congressional elections. The overall majority of Venezuelans (98 percent)
voted for fledgling parties, such as those of Chavez and of his rival Henrique
Salas Romer, who won 40 percent of the votes in the presidential elections.
The elections were held against the background of economic and
political crisis in the country. According to some social scientists, 80 percent
of the population lives below the poverty line.
EXTREMIST GROUPS AND ANTI-SEMITIC ACTIVITIES
While anti-Semitism is not as visible in Venezuela as in other parts of Latin
America, it has the potential to emerge more openly due to the influence of
Islamist groups and their contacts with local left-wing extremists. Moreover,
for the first time in forty years xenophobic and racist elements surfaced
during the election campaigns, including anti-Semitic manifestations in the
press. An article about the Jewish community in Venezuela, published in the
journal Primicia, in May, clearly attempted to stress the wealth and power
of the community.
Also In May 1998, El Universal, the most widely distributed newspaper in
Venezuela, published an article by Alfredo Toro Hardy, then the Venezuelan
ambassador to Chile, under the title "The United States, a Satellite of Israel?"
Hardy claimed that the US Congress was more powerful than the White
House, that the Jewish community determined the politics of Congress and
that Israel dictated the political stand of the Jewish community. He almost
accused the Jewish community in the United States of being a fifth column
within the country. In December, after Chavez was elected, Toro Hardy was
appointed as ambassador to the United States. In October El Universal
published an article by Juan Liscano who referred to the Jews as a "spiritual
Another popular newspaper, El Globo, occasionally published anti-Semitic
opinions. Rafael Bayed, for example, one of the most infamous anti-Semitic
and anti-Israel figures in Venezuela, wrote an article entitled "Jews, the
Antithesis of Catholicism," claiming, inter alia, that there could be no
reconciliation between Catholics and Jews.
Arab groups associated with FEARAB (Federation of Arabs in Latin
American Countries) have considerable influence on the printed press. They
refuse to recognize the State of Israel, insisting that Israel aims to dominate
first the Muslim and Arab world, and then the rest of the world. They are
strongly critical of the UN and the US as being too pro-Israel and weave anti-Semitic
motifs into their discussions of the Arab world, the Palestinian issue
ATTITUDES TOWARD THE HOLOCAUST AND THE NAZI ERA
Some tendencies to minimize the Holocaust were noted, for example, in
articles comparing the Jews of today with the Nazis. Also, an article
published in El Nacional, the second most widely-distributed newspaper in
Venezuela, claimed that although the Jews were victims, they were also to
blame for letting the Nazis do with them what they pleased. This was in
contrast to the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, who fought for their freedom and
were thus worthy of respect, said the author. He concluded by stating that
today crimes against the Palestinian people in the refugee camps were being
committed by murderers wearing the Star of David.