Hizbollah attack feared in Venezuela

By Daniella Peled - Foreign Editor, February 18, 2009

Venezuelan Jews fear they face a terror attack like the Hizbollah-linked Amia bombing in Argentina, a leading community member has warned.

The Iranian-backed movement was thought to be behind the 1994 attack on the Buenos Aires community centre in which 85 people died.

“Hizbollah is growing in force here,” said Sammy Eppel, Director of the Human Rights Commission of B’nai B’rith Venezuela. “We are trying to avert something like Amia happening in Venezuela.”

Abraham Levy Ben Shimol, the head of the country’s community, has accused President Hugo Chavez of sanctioning antisemitism. Mr Chavez — a close ally of Iran — this week won a referendum that could keep him in power indefinitely.

“For the community this is very hard. We never knew antisemitism before, we didn’t even have people to deal with it,” said Mr Eppel, a columnist for the Caracas newspaper El Universal.

He said that antisemitic articles began appearing in the official media some five years ago, despite numerous complaints by leaders of the 15,000-strong community. After Israel’s recent Gaza campaign, they noted more than 300 antisemitic pieces in two weeks, including one, published on 20 January, which Mr Eppel described as a “call to action”.

The article, by Emilio Jose Silva Chapellin, a professor at Venezuelan Bolivarian University, argued that people should “denounce publicly, with names and last names, the members of powerful Jewish groups present in Venezuela”.

He also called for demonstrations in front of all Jewish institutions, adding: “It is good to remember the synagogue in the Caracas sector of Mariperez.”

Ten days later, the shul was attacked and daubed with antisemitic slogans.

Eleven people, including seven police officers, were subsequently arrested, but Mr Eppel said some believed that the attack had been carried out with the complicity of the authorities.

“Another theory is that if the government had nothing to do with it, then it is down to the climate of antisemitism the government has created.”

A pressing concern, said Mr Eppel, was over Hizbollah activity. Western governments also fear that the guerilla group had set up operational cells in Venezuela. “Now they are underground here,” said Mr Eppel. “But when there is a government demonstration, Hizbollah flags appear.”

He added: “I feel that we are the subject of an experiment being done with the help of radical Islam and Iranians in a country with no history of antisemitism. This hatred fits into a grand plan on which we can only speculate.”

Last updated: 12:44pm, September 5 2010