Politics & Policy

Will Venezuela Be Judenrein?

It will take more than diplomacy to keep it from happening.

On December 1, 2007, two dozen heavily armed police staged a raid on a Jewish community center in Caracas where hundreds of Venezuela’s small Jewish community were celebrating a wedding. The police, the Venezuelan equivalent of the FBI, claimed to be seeking weapons and evidence of “subversive activity.”

They found no weapons. As for subversive activity, well, in a proto-authoritarian state like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, subversion is a very elastic concept. The mildest skepticism about Chavez’s regime might easily qualify.

This bit of harassment theater was only the latest in a series of worrying moves by the Chavez government against its Jewish citizens. The same community center had been raided in 2004, in the morning hours when children were being bused to school. The regime — which boasts of cozy friendships with Ahmadinejad’s Iran and Castro’s Cuba — has also engaged in steady anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda. A little more than a year ago, Chavez declared in a Christmas Eve speech that “the world has wealth for all, but some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, have taken over all the wealth of the world.”

During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, Chavez became increasingly shrill, accusing the Israelis of behaving like Nazis. On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., Gustavo Aristegui — the shadow foreign minister in Spain’s opposition party — told a group at the Hudson Institute that Hamas and Hezbollah are now operating freely in Venezuela.

Publications by the government’s ministry of culture have featured titles like “The Jewish Question,” with cover art showing a Star of David superimposed over a swastika. Jews were accused of complicity in the murder of a prosecutor. An article in a leading newspaper, El Diaro de Caracas asked whether it would become necessary “to expel [the Jews] from the country.”

Most recently, as the Forward has reported, Chavez has used the government-run television channel to engage in “lengthy rants about the presence of Mossad agents allegedly in the country working to unseat the Chavez regime with the support of the United States and opposition forces in Venezuela.” The program’s host interrupted to ask about the loyalty of Jews to Venezuela.

At the start of Chavez’s rule, the Jewish community in Venezuela numbered about 30,000. Solid statistics are hard to come by, but most estimates now put the number at between 8 and 15,000 today. About half of Venezuela’s Jewish community emigrated there to escape the Nazis during World War II. Neither they nor their children would require much prodding to sense danger. The raids, the propaganda, and the hostile press might have been enough. But then consider this: The man Chavez placed in charge of internal security is one Tarek al Assaimi, son of Saddam Hussein’s envoy to Venezuela.

You might expect an outcry from other Jews around the world — and there has been some. But within the U.S., many of the leaders of large Jewish organizations are seeking to stifle those — like Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns — who are urging members of Congress to hold hearings on the matter. Weiss reports that Rep. Eliot Engel (D., NY) was willing to call a hearing but was dissuaded by the Conference of Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations.

Dina Siegel Vann, speaking of behalf of the American Jewish Congress, published an op-ed in the Miami Herald scolding those who want to make as public a protest as possible. “Shouting and screaming from the safety of the United States may feel good to some,” she wrote, “but the goal of the exercise is not to satisfy their needs; rather it’s to ensure the safety and well-being of thousands of Venezuelan Jews . . .” Her title: “Let’s Use Diplomacy, Not Public Protests.”

Well, diplomacy has its place, but this isn’t it. When the Soviet Union was denying exit visas to Jews wishing to emigrate and persecuting those who sought to leave, only the loud and persistent protests of Jews in the United States and elsewhere (combined with congressional action) caused the Soviets to relent. Bill Buckley quipped at the time that he hoped the Soviets would release every Jew who wanted to emigrate except one — to keep alive the Jewish pressure that was so helpful in the larger Cold War.

The Venezuelan Jews themselves have asked for such international pressure. They believe Chavez to be extremely sensitive to international opinion. It would be naïve to place faith in diplomacy alone.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The Kavanaugh Court

If Justice Barrett votes as her mentor Justice Scalia did, she will be part of an ascendant conservative majority on the Supreme Court. What kinds of decisions can we expect from this majority? Short answer: Ask Brett Kavanaugh. Contrary to how journalists frame each seat change on the Court, comparing the new ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Kavanaugh Court

If Justice Barrett votes as her mentor Justice Scalia did, she will be part of an ascendant conservative majority on the Supreme Court. What kinds of decisions can we expect from this majority? Short answer: Ask Brett Kavanaugh. Contrary to how journalists frame each seat change on the Court, comparing the new ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More

Trump vs. Biden: A Rundown

One week out, the contrasts are worth assessing. Foreign policy Biden so far has issued no substantive critique of Trump’s foreign policy other than banalities that Trump’s comportment and unpredictability have offended allies and tarnished America’s reputation. But who exactly, according to Biden, is ... Read More

Trump vs. Biden: A Rundown

One week out, the contrasts are worth assessing. Foreign policy Biden so far has issued no substantive critique of Trump’s foreign policy other than banalities that Trump’s comportment and unpredictability have offended allies and tarnished America’s reputation. But who exactly, according to Biden, is ... Read More
Elections

The Only Middle Finger Available

If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture. After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports ... Read More
Elections

The Only Middle Finger Available

If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture. After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Some Counterfactual Thinking

Election Day is one week away. Can you believe it? On the menu today: contemplating what would be different, and what would be the same, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired in 2013 instead of staying on the Court until her death earlier this year; a couple of flubbed words on the campaign trail; yes, people really ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Some Counterfactual Thinking

Election Day is one week away. Can you believe it? On the menu today: contemplating what would be different, and what would be the same, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired in 2013 instead of staying on the Court until her death earlier this year; a couple of flubbed words on the campaign trail; yes, people really ... Read More