venezuela synagogue 248.88 jta.
(photo credit: Jasmina Kelemen / jta)
If someone were to rank the most embattled Jewish communities in the world
today, the Jewish community of Venezuela would certainly be high on that
list. Over the past decade the community has shrunk by half its
“Ten years ago we had about 18,000 members,” said Salomon Cohen.
“Now we have about 9,500.”
Cohen, head of the Confederacion de
Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV), an umbrella group representing the
South American country’s Jewish community, spoke with The Jerusalem Post
on the sidelines of the World Jewish Congress.
The 55-year-old leader of
the Jewish community cited three main causes for the community’s current
“First, the economy is not going like it was 10 years before,” he
“Second, security in general is very, very bad. We have too many
killers in Venezuela.”
Indeed, violent crime is a major issue plaguing
Venezuela. According to recent reports the number of civilian deaths in
Venezuela in 2009 was approximately 19,000, almost three times higher than that
The third factor cited by Cohen was anti-Semitic attacks on the
“We had about 200 attacks on the community,” Cohen
said. “When they want to speak about Venezuela negatively they call it the
‘Israel of South America,’ for instance.”
Part of the problem is that
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a strong ally of Iran, an avowed enemy of
Israel. Chavez is a strong critic of Israeli policy and severed ties with
Jerusalem in 2009.
Anti-Israel sentiment is widespread and supported by
the state. In the halftime of the recent soccer World Cup final, local
television aired an ad which showed soccer players wearing jerseys with Israel
and Zionist emblazoned on them on a soccer pitch with Palestinian women and
“This is not a game, this is a massacre,” the ad
Despite the differences of opinion, Cohen said it was important
to remain engaged in dialogue with the government.
“We have direct
communication with several government ministers and those in charge of
security,” he said. “These lines of communication are well established,
although we would like to have more.”