RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Twenty-six Jews from Venezuela immigrated to Israel, fleeing the South American country’s political, social and economic unrest.
After several years of discontent with the far-left government under President Nicolas Maduro and his late predecessor and political godfather Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has been racked by protests that began in April against the Maduro government.
“The situation is very hard,” Michal Levy, 35, said upon arriving in Israel on Wednesday with her three children. “It’s hard to get basic things like bread and flour.”
Levy said she has been afraid to leave her house due to riots or kidnappings.
The new immigrants from Venezuela were brought to Israel by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which funded the cost of airline tickets and provided each emigre with a gift of $400 per child and $800 per adult, on top of the financial aid package that every immigrant is entitled to receive from the Israeli government. By the end of 2017, the fellowship expects to bring some 100 immigrants from Venezuela to Israel, the organization said in a statement.
While the Venezuelan government is set to vote Sunday to establish a body to rewrite the constitution, basic goods and services have been disrupted by economic malfunction and social stability has been disintegrating in almost daily running street battles between police and youths.
In May, Maduro likened the harassment of his country’s government officials and their families living abroad to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis. He also said that 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.”
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 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 Chavez 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.