By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
The number of Jews expected to immigrate to Israel from Turkey this year is likely to double compared to last year, but the level remains extremely low despite surging anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents in the predominantly Muslim country, a Jewish Agency for Israel official said Sunday.
Separately, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Venezuela said Sunday that he doubted whether the South American country held any future for the Jewish community, following the Friday night vandalism of the oldest synagogue in the country.
About 250 Turkish Jews are expected to immigrate to Israel this year, more than double the 112 who did so last year, said Eli Cohen, director-general of the Jewish Agency's Immigration and Absorption Department in Jerusalem.
The number of expected immigrants from Turkey this year makes up only 1 percent of the 25,000-strong Jewish community that traces its roots in the nation back more than five centuries, dating to the Spanish Inquisition.
"We would prefer that the main reason for aliya today [be] the ideology of those immigrants who come from Western countries, but we see that the anti-Semitic incidents, as well as the global economic crisis, are what is furthering aliya today," Cohen said.
He noted that many of the Turkish Jews seeking to make aliya were students or young couples wanting to study at Israeli universities or to live in Israel.
Relations between Israel and Turkey hit a nadir last week after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been a leading and vitriolic critic of Israel's recent military operation against Hamas in Gaza, stormed out of a panel discussion with President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
At the same time, the Jewish Agency official said Sunday that there was "a large interest" in immigration to Israel among Jews living in Venezuela. About 14,500 Jews live there, and only 60 immigrated to Israel last year.
All Israeli representatives were kicked out of the country last month during Operation Cast Lead, but the agency is in daily contact with Jewish groups there, Cohen said.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Pynchas Brener of Venezuela said Sunday that he was doubtful that there was any future for the Jewish community there.
"There is a psychological mechanism which makes people within the country think things are not as bad as they seem," Brener told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from Caracas. "For psychological reasons, people who live in the country tend to justify actions taken against them."
His comments came after the main Sephardi synagogue in Caracas was vandalized by a group of attackers.
Two security guards were overpowered by about 15 people who ransacked the synagogue's sanctuary and offices late Friday, shattering religious objects and leaving graffiti such as, "We don't want murderers," and "Jews, get out."
The incident forced the synagogue to cancel Saturday services.
"Reason makes us believe that this was done with the consent - if not the instigation - of some central power in Venezuela," he said.
He noted that Israel and Jews were viewed as synonymous in the South American country, adding that an upcoming vote on whether the president could be reelected indefinitely could prove to be a harbinger of things to come.
"I do not know if in this environment there will be a future for the Jewish community here," he said.
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League called the synagogue incident "a modern day Kristallnacht."
"This violent attack, occurring on the Jewish Sabbath, is reminiscent of the darkest days leading to the Shoah, when Jews were attacked and synagogues and Torahs vandalized and destroyed under the guard of the Nazi regime," said ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.
Foxman said the heinous anti-Jewish hate crime was not random, but was "directly related to the atmosphere of anti-Jewish intimidation promoted by President Hugo Chavez and his government apparatus."
The organization called for Chavez to "abandon the official government rhetoric of demonization of Israel and the Jews and to publicly denounce this wanton act of anti-Semitic violence."
Separately, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Sunday that Chavez's attacks on Israel and the Jewish community had "set the stage" for the incident.
"This was no mere hate crime from the margins of society, but a reflection of President Chavez's campaign to demonize Israel and her supporters," the organization said. "For this dangerous escalation of hate against a minority to stop, President Chavez's hate campaign must be denounced by all leaders in the Americas and beyond."
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