March 29, 2007
Venezuela’s Jews prosper but keep wary eye on future with Hugo Chavez
(Page 2 - Previous Page)After the demonstration, the wall outside the synagogue was daubed with "Jews, killers -- leave" and "Zionist baby-killers." At other times, graffiti has appeared there with slogans such as "Jews go home" and "Here are the murderers of the Palestinians."
A more worrying development was the appearance of a Venezuela-based Web site claiming to be the local branch of Hezbollah. The site warned, "Hizbolla Latin America is analyzing placing explosives against a U.S. ally in Latin America. This would indicate the launch of Hizbolla Latin America."
Another concern is over Chavez's increasingly close economic and political ties to Iran. As the world has condemned Tehran's nuclear ambitions, Venezuela has emerged as one of Iran's few solid allies in the world.
At the same time, Chavez effectively cut all diplomatic ties with Israel last year by withdrawing his charge d'affaires. He had recalled his ambassador three years earlier.
Pressner said Chavez's comments could trigger more extreme activists to feel they're acting with his blessing: "We fear what he has sowed. We fear what could happen if there is another conflict. If there were a conflict with Iran, for example, we don't know what the consequences would be for our community."
Nevertheless, most Jews in Caracas do not feel that anti-Israel sentiment will provoke physical attacks.
"They're not burning synagogues or persecuting people on the streets, but there is officially sanctioned anti-Semitism," Eppel said. "The Venezuelan people aren't anti-Semitic. This is being directed by a few activists."
A more immediate concern is over the government's plans for education. Chavez's stated aim is to spread "21st century socialist values" via the school system -- and to extend this through private schools as well. While it's not clear how this would work, many Jews find the proposal troubling.
"Chavez is putting his brother in charge of education reform, and he might base it on the model in Cuba, where he was a student," said Guillermo Schmidmajer, whose daughter teaches Hebrew at the Jewish school.
On a more positive note, the community can take heart not only from its own unity but from the solidarity and support it has received from across Latin America and the world. Last weekend, CAIV celebrated its 40th anniversary in a spirit of hopefulness and achievement.
To coincide with CAIV's anniversary, the Latin American Jewish Congress held a two-day meeting in Caracas attended by some 70 Jewish leaders from Latin America, the United States, Canada, Europe and Israel.
The highlight of the weekend was a commemoration at the Hebraica attended by some 1,200 people, featuring Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, first lady of Argentina and a senator there, as the keynote speaker.
In what seemed to be a swipe at Chavez, she told the meeting, "Each and every one of us who has the responsibility of being part of an elected institution in Latin America should not only raise our voices but act in a concrete way against any sign or glimpse of anti-Semitism."
Fernandez is widely expected to launch a bid to succeed her husband, Nestor Kirchner, in Argentina's presidential elections in October.
At a time of great concern over the actions and attitudes of its own president, the Venezuelan Jewish community is happy to have such influential friends.
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