Analysis: In Venezuela, antisemitism is state policy
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A new report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has criticised the Venezuelan government for encroaching on the civil and political rights of its people, and particularly those of its Jewish community.
The report expressed particular concern about the rising number of antisemitic incidents, and noted that the government-controlled media "contributed to creating an atmosphere of intimidation and violence against the Jewish community in Venezuela".
This is cause for serious alarm. However, it is hardly surprising.
Since Hugo Chavez took power, antisemitic expression has grown exponentially: in government media; in the dissemination of the Protocols of Zion; in the accusation that "Semitic banks" are sabotaging the economy; in the fact that the Caracas Jewish school was raided twice by armed forces "searching for Mossad-supplied arms caches"; in the desecration of two synagogues; and in the closing of the Israeli Embassy. The Venezuelan ambassador to Moscow even alleged that Jewish
citizens implicated in a 2002 anti-Chavez coup were "Mossad agents".
The origins of Mr Chavez's attitude can be traced to the influence wielded over him by his Argentine, pro-Nazi, Holocaust-denying school companion, the late Norberto Ceresole, who - in his 1998 book on Mr Chavez's election victory - warned of the Venezuelan "Jewish mafia".
In a 2004 Christmas Eve message, Mr Chavez claimed that "the descendants of those who crucified Christ, the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar and crucified him in their own way… took possession of the riches of the world. A minority appropriated the world's gold, the silver, the minerals, the water, the good lands, the oil and has concentrated the riches in a few hands…"
Here he was mixing the motifs of the Jews as Christ-killers and of Marxism.
The next year, Mr Chavez compared the Spanish conquest of the Indians to the situation of the Palestinians and, a year after that, tolerated the appearance of "Hizbollah Venezuela", an indigenous Wayuu Indian tribe that has embraced Shiah Islam and is essentially a jihadi transplant into the region.
Much, too, has been made of the burgeoning Venezuela-Iran strategic alliance. This is primarily anti-American, but its antisemitic/anti-Zionist quotient is an added binding factor.
A weekly Caracas-Tehran flight was inaugurated in November 2004 by Mr Chavez, who arrived in Iran at the very moment his Special Forces raided the Caracas Jewish School.
Mr Chavez is undoubtedly obsessed with a world Jewish conspiracy represented by the less than 12,000 Jews remaining in Venezuela. They are becoming the scapegoat for his dysfunctional administration and the economic crisis that is engulfing a country blessed with oil, coffee and sugar.
One third of the Jewish community has fled, fearing Soviet-style state antisemitism. Indeed, such a policy has all the appearances of having already begun.
A pro-Chavez television show named Venezuelan Jewish leaders as anti-Venezuelan conspirators, and called on other Jews "not involved in the conspiracy" to publicly denounce their coreligionists. A Chavista newspaper editorial questioned whether "we will have to expel them from our country… as other nations have done."
The Wiesenthal Centre's 2009 appeal to the Organisation of American States to conduct an enquiry into Venezuelan government–inspired antisemitism has resulted in its associated Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report.
Within this catalogue of Caracas's violations of fundamental rights, it unambiguously documents the government's incitement to Jew-hatred as a policy of state.
For as long as this autocratic regime strategically endangers the Western hemisphere and targets the classic scapegoat, pro-democracy activists will surely lobby for its isolation from the international community.
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which holds consultative status at the Organisation of American States and the Latin American Parliament