Hate crimes against Jews rise in Venezuela

As President Hugo Chavez intensifies his anti-Israel campaign, some Venezuelans have taken action, threatening Jews in the street and vandalizing the largest synagogue in Caracas – where they stole a database of names and addresses.

Now many in Venezuela’s Jewish community fear the worst is yet to come.

Chavez has personally taken care not to criticize Israelis or Jews while accusing Israel’s government of genocide against the Palestinians. He vehemently denies inciting religious intolerance, let alone violence.

But Venezuela’s Jewish leaders, the Organization of American States and the U.S. State Department say Chavez’s harsh criticism has inspired a growing list of hate crimes, including a Jan. 30 invasion of Caracas’ largest synagogue.

About 15 people overpowered two security guards at the Tiferet Israel Synagogue, shattering religious objects and spray-painting “Jews, get out” on the walls. Most worrisome, according to Elias Farache, president of the Venezuelan-Israelite Association, was their theft of a computer database containing many names and addresses of Jews in Venezuela.

One week before the invasion, a Chavista columnist named Emilio Silva posted a call to action on Aporrea, a pro-government Web site, describing Jews as “squalid” – a term Chavez often uses to describe his opponents as weak – and exhorting Venezuelans to confront them as anti-government conspirators.

“Publicly challenge every Jew that you find in the street, shopping center or park,” he wrote, “shouting slogans in favor of Palestine and against that abortion: Israel.”

With criticism mounting, Chavez phoned Farache on Thursday night in a conversation broadcast live on state television, and vowed to guarantee the safety of Venezuela’s 15,000 Jews. He condemned the synagogue attack. But he also suggested that it might have been an inside job, and demanded that Jewish leaders publicly recant accusations against his government.

Farache responded by saying, “We have acted in good faith and with the best intentions to guarantee the tranquility of our community.” He also said that Jews hoped to avoid being exploited by the opposition or by Chavez supporters in a Feb. 15 referendum that could enable Chavez to extend his rule indefinitely. “Our community is apolitical,” he said.

Hate crimes have escalated despite Chavez’s declaration that his government “rejects any type of aggression against any temple, be it Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or any other.” And the attorney general’s statement Friday gave no details about any progress investigating a list of more than a dozen threats against Jews.


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