Gaza spurs Latin American fears

By David Labi, January 29, 2009

Israel’s Gaza operation has led to a rise in antisemitism in Latin America and fresh fears for the safety of Venezuelan Jews, according to a prominent Latin American Jewish organisation.

In an open letter, the Confederación Latinoamericana Maccabi (CLAM) has expressed grave concerns over a new wave of antisemitism in Venezuela, prompted by events in Gaza.

The letter states: “Since the events in Gaza began… the government of Venezuela has adopted an aggressive and dangerous tone never previously heard, clearly inciting against the Jewish community… Furthermore, there is a well-orchestrated campaign on TV, radio, print and internet media owned by the government, openly questioning Israel’s right to exist, even including publication of such antisemitic materials as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A group of pro-government journalists is urging the population to boycott businesses owned by Jews.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s alliance with Iran, support for Hizbollah and Hamas and history of extreme statements have made him a figure of concern for the 25,000-strong Jewish community since his 1998 election. Early in the Gaza offensive, he expelled the Israeli ambassador and referred to the Gaza attack as a “Holocaust”.

However, according to the Anti-Defamation League his political posturing is now “spilling over” into everyday society in the form of antisemitic graffiti and violent demonstrations.

Sergio Widder, head of the Wiesenthal Centre’s Latin America branch, corroborates this view. CLAM’s assertions of an orchestrated antisemitic media campaign including the boycott call are currently being investigated by the Wiesenthal Centre.

Ironically, on December 18, President Chávez — along with Presidents Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Christina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina — signed a declaration against antisemitism, intolerance and racism.

This was welcomed as “important” by World Jewish Congress President Ronald S Lauder. But general violence on the ground seems to be increasing.

Last week, there was an angry protest in Buenos Aires, including daubing of antisemitic graffiti outside the office of Eduardo Elzstain, Argentina’s most prominent Jewish businessman and the new WJC chairman. Argentinian antisemitism, however, is condemned by the government, whereas in Venezuela, according to CLAM’s open letter, “the Government makes no effort to stop it”.

Last updated: 2:45pm, March 10 2009