Rabbi requests investigation into Venezuelan anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two Jewish activists are petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to probe "government-instigated anti-Semitism in Venezuela."

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Coalition of Jewish Concerns-Amcha presented a legal brief on Thursday afternoon to the commission, an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, which is based in Washington and aims to promote and protect human rights. In addition to Herzfeld, Venezuelan journalist Sammy Eppel, who is Jewish, signed his name to the petition and offered to testify before the commission.

Herzfeld and lawyer Steven Lieberman, who co-authored the brief, said a hearing is necessary because the Venezuelan government cannot be trusted to investigate itself.

The document alleges a pattern of attacks on and demonization of the Jewish community in Venezuela, from public remarks by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to vandalization of Jewish institutions to offensive cartoons in government-controlled media. It also details the intimidation of Jewish communal institutions by government security agents and notes two attacks earlier this year on Jewish institutions, including the January desecration of a Caracas synagogue by a group that included seven police officers.

"We want to use every aspect of the law to protect the Jews of Venezuela," said Herzfeld, arguing that the recent attacks on the Jewish community are an early warning sign for possible future atrocities. The brief compares the conduct of the Venezuelan government to 1930s Germany.

Lieberman said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has shown itself to be fair in investigating human rights abuses in Latin America in the past. A commission representative told Herzfeld and Lieberman that the next commission hearing would take place in October, and that the request would be considered when the body meets to decide what issues will be placed on the agenda.

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