chavez salutes 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
On the eve of a conference on anti-Semitism on Monday, one man has arrived in London with a simple plea for the government in his country to stop its state-sanctioned and media-led campaign of anti-Semitism.
That man is Sammy Eppel from Venezuela, a Jewish community leader, director of the human rights commission of B'nai B'rith and columnist for Caracas's main newspaper El Universal. He has come to tell his story of the plight of the Jewish community in his country and the acute rise in anti-Semitism there, which he said was led by the state, from the president through to the government.
The act that began this wave of anti-Semitism, he told The Jerusalem Post, was a raid on a Jewish school in Caracas in 2004. The police had been looking for weapons and explosives, he said, but pointed out that the raid tied in with a visit to Iran by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
"It was, if you like, a gift for Ahmadinejad, to say that 'this is how I treat my Jews,'" Eppel said.
This was part of the problem also - Venezuela's ties with Iran - which he said the world would eventually have to take seriously.
Since Operation Cast Lead, things have gotten worse for Venezuelan Jews. This culminated in an attack on the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in Caracas on January 30 which caused widespread damage. The perpetrators left slogans such as "damn the Jews" and "Jews out of here" on the synagogue walls.
In the subsequent investigation, eight police officers have been arrested, including a senior female police detective who has been accused by the El Universal newspaper of leading the attack.
Before this, on January 20, the government sponsored news portal, Aporrea, published a "Plan of Actionâ€š" which among other things called for "confiscation of properties of those Jews who support the Zionist atrocities of the Nazi-State of Israel and [the] donation [of] this property to the Palestinian victims of today's Holocaust."
It also called to publicly denounce by name the members of "powerful Jewish groups" in Venezuela, as well as the names of their companies and businesses in order to boycott them.
"[The plan] was a call to action, people were urged to confront Jews in the streets, they were talking about closing Jewish schools, confiscating Jewish property," Eppel said.
"It's being done in government and the media and this should be troubling not just us but [the] whole world," he said.
He described the country as being like a laboratory in which the government was trying to manufacture anti-Semitism where it had never existed before.
"It is like an evil experiment to try and convince the population, that has never been anti-Semitic, and try to introduce anti-Semitism into society," he said.
"This is the time to stop because it's spreading hate, discrimination and is a flagrant violation of human rights and it could spread and be very dangerous," he warned.
Eppel was quick to emphasize that the people in Venezuela were not anti-Semitic.
"Venezuela is a country that has no anti-Semitism in the population," he said. "The people are not anti-Semitic."
Venezuela's Jewish community has halved in the last 10 years, numbering today around 14-15,000, many halving left for Israel, other South American countries and the US. He said he hoped that Jews would stay in Venezuela.
"We don't want to leave, we are fully integrated in every walk of life in Venezuela," he said.
He insists that anti-Semitism does not exist on the street.
"You have cases of anti-Semitism or hate crimes in Britain. You don't have it in Venezuela. People would not attack a Jew on the street for wearing a kippa, it is all state sanctioned."
Eppel will be addressing the London Conference on anti-Semitism on Tuesday.
"I have come to present the reality - everything I present comes from open sources, I don't speculate, it's all documented and in the public domain. I'm not taking anything out of context nor inventing anything or presenting a theory," he said.
After the Synagogue attack, Eppel said that the media, 80 percent of which is controlled by the government, had blamed the Mossad and the CIA. The Jewish community had also been implicated, but he has no doubt who was behind it.
"When they give you a standard response like that, it puts a warning light and you immediately think it's the government because why are they looking for excuses if no one has accused them?" he said.
I ask him what the community is doing in response.
"We have at least 61 times denounced this to the authorities in last three years, including last November when we went to the Attorney General and demanded that action be taken because we were afraid that the offensive was so strong that the next stage would be a violent act. Nothing has happened," he said.