A Washington rabbi and Jewish activist group are petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to hold hearings into "government-instigated anti-Semitism in Venezuela."
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Coalition of Jewish Concerns — Amcha presented a legal brief on Thursday afternoon to the commission, an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States headquartered in Washington, D.C. and set up to promote and protect human rights. In addition to AMCHA, 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 lays out the recent history 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 the 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 includes seven police officers.
"We want to use every aspect of the law to protect the Jews of Venezuela," said Herzfeld, noting 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 IACHR 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.
Gabe Ledeen, a former Marine who went on a "fact-finding mission" last month in Venezuela with Herzfeld and AMCHA leader Rabbi Avi Weiss, joined Herzfeld and Lieberman to present the petition. He said bringing attention to what’s going on in Venezuela is critical because it denies "people the excuse of ignorance. "