RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has likened the harassment of government officials and their families living abroad to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis.
During a televised Cabinet meeting late Tuesday, the far-left South American leader also said that recent opposition rallies in Caracas were reminiscent of rallies during the rise of Nazism and fascism in pre-World War II Europe.
“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said. “We don’t carry the yellow Star of David, we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”
The American Jewish Congress condemned the analogy made by Maduro.
“It is beyond appalling that President Maduro would invoke the Holocaust in an effort to protect himself and his regime, and to attack and defame the opposition,” said Dina Siegel Vann, AJC Director of Latino and Latin American Affairs.
Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom have fled the country’s economic and social chaos, in recent weeks have accosted visiting state officials and their family members.
Government opponents, who have accused Maduro of becoming a dictator by postponing elections and seeking to rewrite the constitution, have staged demonstrations nearly every day since early April. More than 40 people have been killed in sometimes violent protests.
Social media has buzzed for weeks with videos of Venezuelan emigres in countries ranging from Australia to the United States shouting insults at public officials and in some cases family members in public places.
In March, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, expressed to his country’s chief rabbi, Isaac Cohen, “the desire to establish full relations with the State of Israel” eight years after the South American nation expelled its Israeli ambassador.
One month before, Maduro welcomed Cohen and members of the country’s umbrella Jewish organization, the Confederacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela, at the governmental palace to strengthen cooperation that over the years has faced roadblocks.
“A good day of dialog for peace. Boosting the co-existence and the dialog of civilizations, of religions to consolidate our nation,” Maduro tweeted then.
A week before that, the United States had barred Venezuela’s vice president, Tareck El Aissami, from entering the U.S., accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking. El Aissami also has been accused of anti-Semitism and ties to Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Anti-Semitic rhetoric was often employed by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s political godfather, to deflect criticism from the country’s deep financial crisis and charges of corruption.
Venezuela is home to some 9,000 Jews, down from about 25,000 in 1999. Many Jews left, mainly for Florida and Israel, due to a deteriorating financial and social climate, along with a growing anti-Semitic environment established under the Chavez and Maduro regimes.