Synagogue in Venezuela vandalized

Local Jews speak openly of government-sponsored anti-Semitism, unprecedented hate campaign.

venezuela anti-semitism synagogue 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
venezuela anti-semitism synagogue 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue late Friday only underscores the feeling of growing anti-Semitic sentiment in the South American nation, Jewish community members said over the weekend. A group of people - reports run as high as 15 - broke into Caracas's Sephardic synagogue late on Friday, held the guard at gunpoint, wreaked havoc on the building and damaged the Torah scrolls. Before leaving at around 3 a.m., the vandals scrawled "Death to the Jews" and "We don't want Jews here" on the synagogue's walls. The damage was discovered by community members on Saturday morning. The guard was found on the floor, one community leader said. According to Paul Hariton, a former leader of the Ashkenazi community in Caracas, "this was a well-organized event. The attackers were heavily armed. They jumped a wall and overcame two guards. They even took the videotape out of the security camera before they left." The US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the attack was "not a random event in Venezuela; it is directly related to the atmosphere of anti-Jewish intimidation promoted by President [Hugo] Chavez and his government apparatus." The suggestion of government sanction for the attack was heard many times from Venezuelan Jews over the weekend, though most of them would not speak on the record. "I do not expect the law to be enforced," Hariton said simply. The ADL called on Chavez "to abandon the official government rhetoric of demonization of Israel and Jews and to publicly denounce this wanton act of anti-Semitic violence." Chavez called on the Venezuelan Jewish community to "declare itself against this barbarity" - Israel's recent offense against Hamas in Gaza - in a January 6 interview with Venezuela's state-run VTV television network. "Don't Jews repudiate the Holocaust? And this is precisely what we're witnessing," Chavez told the network. According to Miami Herald columnist and Latin America expert Andres Oppenheimer, "Chavez-backed regional media carry anti-Semitic - and not just anti-Israel - stories almost daily." For example, he relates, "As I'm writing this [on Thursday], a quick look at the Web site of Telesur, the Venezuela-based regional television network owned by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Paraguay, shows me a story entitled 'Gaza's Ruins,' which accuses Israel 'and the world's Jews' of failing to denounce alleged atrocities by Israeli troops and 'Jewish planes' in Gaza." "We've never had such an incident. It looks well-planned," Daniel Ben-Naim, spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Venezuela, said of the synagogue attack. "We were afraid something like this would happen. The official press was becoming more and more anti-Israeli and anti-Jews. There are hundreds of anti-Semitic articles, ads and fliers." According to Hariton, the government is using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "scapegoat" to distract attention from Venezuela's most pressing problems. With crime at one of the highest levels in the world, "where does the Venezuelan government find the time to talk about terrorists getting killed in Gaza? It used to be a country friendly to Israel and the Jewish community," he said. "You can disagree with Israel. That's fine," said Hariton. "But you can't go to a place where we worship and destroy it. That's clearly anti-Semitism."