Engel hits Chavez on Israel attack

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A senior U.S. Jewish congressman slammed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for calling Israel a country that "annihilates" people.

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Latin America subcommittee, issued the statement Friday evening, a day after Chavez lashed out at Israel during an official visit to Syria. Chavez’s remarks "are as offensive as they are absurd," Engel said in his statement.

Engel alluded to an attack on a Caracas synagogue earlier this year at a time when Chavez was likening Israel to Nazis because of its war in the Gaza Strip.

"President Chavez’s rhetoric in the past has created a climate of government-inspired anti-Semitism in Venezuela," Engel said. "Such continued demonization of the State of Israel can only foster that climate."

Engel also mocked Chavez for condemning human rights abuses while being hosted by a major abuser, and noted Chavez’s closeness to another repressive regime, Iran.

"I find it ironic that President Chavez could sit in Damascus, which houses the offices of Hamas and other terrorist groups, while condemning the State of Israel," he said. "If anything, it is Hugo Chavez who has allowed Iran and its extremists allies to have a foothold in South America. I remind President Chavez that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has already carried out two deadly terrorist attacks in South America."

Also slamming Chavez was U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"This outrageous anti-Israel incitement should be a red light for U.S. officials seeking closer ties with both pariah leaders," she said.

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