Jews in Venezuela have said they are concerned by a fresh surge of antisemitism as the political crisis in the country continues.
Government officials have targeted the Jewish community among those they blame for unrest in the country, in which 39 people have been killed.
“International Zionism is involved in the wave of Nazi-fascist violence in Caracas,” said Yul Jabour, deputy of Venezuela’s National Assembly.
The US-based Global Jewish Advocacy group expressed alarm at the statement, saying that the “scapegoating of Jews and other harsh practices of the late Hugo Chavez are, tragically for this troubled country, continuing under the present government.”
A wave of anti-government protests has been sweeping through Venezuela since February, with demonstrators expressing anger at food shortages, crime and high inflation. Many say they will not stop until they bring about a change of government.
Last month David Bittan, president of the Venezuelan Confederation of Israeli Associations (CAIV), told a Mexican website that there was a “rise in antisemitism in articles published by the official state media”. Dina Siegel, director of the Latin American office of the American Jewish Committee agreed, telling Enlace Judío that “antisemitism is being used as a political weapon to intimidate and imply illegitimacy” in Venezuela.
One of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who is of Jewish descent, has been attacked by the government as a representative of “Zionism”.
It is estimated that when Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999 there were around 18,000 Jews living in Venezuela. This number is thought to have halved during the reign of Mr Chavez — who died last year — and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, who was elected a year ago this month.
Venezuela’s strong alliance with Iran, coupled with a raid on the Hebrew Club in Caracas in 2007 and the attack on a synagogue in Caracas in 2009 by 15 masked men, have taken a disastrous toll on the Venezuelan Jewish community. Thousands have moved to Miami, New York and Central American countries such as Costa Rica and Panama.
This week, Jewish leaders in Caracas called on the opposing sides in Venezuela to strive for peace, saying “we plead for understanding and respect”, and reject “the chains forged from mediocrity, intolerance and hate”.