Venezuela's Jews face a constant barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric that is often a vehicle for outright anti-Semitism, a Venezuelan Jewish leader told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
"Almost all government media, which makes up about half of all the media in the country, in television, radio and Internet, publish daily anti-Israel articles," according to Robert Croidorescu, chairman of the Maccabi chain of Latin American Jewish community centers and a former president of the Venezuelan Jewish community.
Through this media's anti-Israel bias, "the government encourages anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism," he said.
While he was emphatic to dispel the fears of some outside observers that the Jewish community was living in the shadow of violence - "all community activities continue; there is no violence" - Croidorescu blamed the government for providing the vehicle for a persistent anti-Semitic discourse in the country.
"The problem is that every classical anti-Semite has done the easy thing and started to use [the conflict with] the Palestinians as the explanation for why the Jews are responsible for everything bad in the world. The government could stop this in a second, but it protects it as 'free speech,'" he said.
Concern for Venezuela's Jewish community has risen in the Jewish world as the government of President Hugo Chavez has adopted a virulently anti-American and anti-Israel stance and worked to strengthen its ties with Iran.
The community has suffered from the changing political winds. During Operation Cast Lead in early 2009, community institutions were spray-painted with anti-Israel epithets, while a January 31 break-in and desecration of a Caracas synagogue was viewed by many Jews as inspired by the Chavez government's anti-Israel attitudes.
Their concerns were not eased when pro-Chavez media - such as journalist Hindu Anderi, commenting to the official Bolivarian News Agency and quoted by The New York Times - said the attack had been conducted by Israeli spies to discredit the Venezuelan government.
In response to the political turmoil, and in part because of high crime figures, Jews have begun to leave the country in large numbers. One-third of Venezuela's Jews are thought to have left the country since the controversial 2005 parliamentary elections that cemented Chavez's control over large swaths of the political system.
Venezuela is no dictatorship under Chavez's rule, Croidorescu maintains, but neither does it enjoy a broad-based democratic culture. For one thing, Croidorescu explained, the media is entirely partisan.
"There are no political arguments between the government and the opposition in the media. Each side has its own media, and they don't invite the other to speak. Everyone can speak their mind, but they don't speak to each other," he said.
The Venezuelan Jewish leader is currently in Israel to attend next week's Global Conference of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers. The conference's main focus will be "to combat the distancing of Diaspora Jews from Israel due to recent alarming trends, [including] most recently the effect of Israel's deteriorating image."
Some 250 heads of JCCs from 30 countries will be at the conference, and the issue foremost in their minds, as in Croidorescu's, is the corrosive effect of the anti-Israel discourse on the Jewish communities.
"I think we're in the middle of a war we didn't see coming," said the Venezuelan leader. "Every lie the Palestinians and their supporters introduce goes unanswered. So people start to believe it. Our youth go to university, and they encounter a very organized campaign arranged by radical Left and Palestinian groups. They don't have the education to respond."
Croidorescu wants advice and help from fellow community leaders and, above all, from Israel. "Only if Israel starts to seriously help us to defend it will we succeed in doing so. We have to defend Israel to defend ourselves. Today the Jews stand with Israel as one people, if only because we don't have a choice," he asserted.
"Latin America is not anti-Semitic," he added, "but we can turn it anti-Semitic by ignoring our opponents. In some places in South America, there are already government ministers who talk about 'the Zionist entity' instead of Israel."