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Op-Ed: World must speak out against Chavez

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — It is increasingly unsafe to be a Jew in Venezuela.

The latest example of the growing hostility toward Jews came on Jan. 30, when a Caracas synagogue was vandalized by armed perpetrators who threw Torah scrolls and prayer books on the floor, and wrote on the walls “We don’t want Jews here” and “Jews get out.”

This latest anti-Semitic act demonstrates once again the vulnerability of Jews in Venezuela. Over the last few years, Venezuelan Jews have been increasingly the target of ever bolder anti-Semitic attacks.

Anti-Israel news is in abundance on Venezuelan state-controlled television and radio stations, which have been featuring excerpts from “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” the anti-Semitic tract — proven to be a forgery — that claims a Jewish plot to rule the world. During the Gaza conflict, large swastikas connected to Stars of David by an equals sign were painted on synagogues and other buildings associated with the Jewish community.

These alarming trends, including the attack on the synagogue, are a direct result of the atmosphere that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is cultivating and reflect the degree to which he has made a mockery of his commitment last year with the presidents of Brazil and Argentina to combat anti-Semitism.

Chavez is inciting hatred by singling out Jews in Venezuela from their countrymen. The Venezuelan leader publicly urged Jews to stand up against Israel and compared the Israeli incursion in Gaza to the Holocaust. These disingenuous and irresponsible remarks have placed the Jewish people in Venezuela in a situation of tremendous vulnerability.

In December, Chavez and his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, made incendiary statements about the situation in the Gaza Strip that culminated in the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Caracas — more evidence of Chavez’s extreme ideology.

Without making any serious analysis of the context of the Gaza conflict or even mentioning Hamas’ years of terrorist attacks against Israel, the Chavez regime called Israel a “genocidal” state that is willingly attacking the “peaceful, unarmed and defenseless Palestinians.”

Shamelessly manipulating history, Chavez dares to say that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 in order to be able to attack the area and get rid of all the Palestinians. He calls Israel “the murderous arm of the United States” and claims that the CIA and Israel’s intelligence unit, Mossad, assassinated PLO leader Yasser Arafat in order to divide the Palestinian people.

Chavez also asserts that the United States would like to have “other Israels” in Latin America to attack the Latin American people, and that it should not be allowed to do so.

People may wonder why the president of Venezuela — a country that is so far from the Middle East, and where Jewish and Arab minorities have traditionally had a peaceful coexistence — even has a position on the conflict in Gaza, one that is more anti-Israel than the positions of the president of the Palestinian Authority and other Arab leaders. But Chavez’s recent anti-Israel statements, and the weekend synagogue attack, are not entirely surprising. Chavez has always been able to capitalize on the anti-American sentiment prevailing in the region, and attacking Israel — a staunch U.S. ally — provides the perfect opportunity.

His manipulation of the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also unmasks his long alliance with Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, as well as his profound sympathy for the Iranian regime’s extreme anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic agenda. Chavez and his ally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, share a frightening worldview.

Chavez’s recent remarks on the Gaza situation drew protests from 75 scholars from all over the world who signed a petition decrying his comparison of Israeli actions to the Holocaust.

In their protest letter to Chavez, the Holocaust scholars cite a 2008 U.S. State Department report that lists “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” as an example of anti-Semitism. The Holocaust scholars asked Chavez to “retract your comparisons of Israel to the Nazis and refrain from making any such comparisons in the future.”

It would seem naive to expect Chavez to renounce his views. But his insidious remarks must be publicly denounced lest anyone, world leader or world citizens, think his remarks are acceptable. To remain silent is to be complicit.

(Daniel S. Mariaschin is executive vice-president of B’nai B’rith International.)

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