Chavez's darkest side

What accounts for this Latin American populist's antagonism toward Israel?

Chavez 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Chavez 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
President Hugo Chavez met with World Jewish Congress leaders on Wednesday, pledging to work together against anti-Semitism and open up channels of communication despite strong differences on Mideast politics. - Associated Press, August 14 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants South American countries to create their own version of OPEC. At the same time, his country has been charged with providing financial support to Hizbullah. Such are Venezuela's dangerous juxtapositions under Chavez: massive oil wealth and an appalling foreign policy. None of Chavez's views is more appalling, in fact, or more characteristic than his obsession with Israel and the Jews. During the Second Lebanon War, he compared Israeli tactics with the "methods of Hitler." Israel's actions amounted to "a new Holocaust," he said, and promptly downgraded diplomatic relations with us. In a July 2006 interview with al-Jazeera TV, Chavez touched on the relations between the US and Israel: "The greatest menace to the future of humanity is the United States, and one of its instruments of aggression in [your] part of the world is the State of Israel." The region's real instruments of aggression, meanwhile, find in Chavez a reliable ally. Venezuela harbors Hizbullah terrorists like Hakim Mamad Ali Diab Fattah and explosives expert Abdul Ghani Suleiman Wanked. And in Lebanon, Hizbullah trains young Venezuelans, members of Chavez's PSUV party, who are recruited by, among others, Tarek el Ayssami, Venezuelan vice-minister of the interior, and Gahzi Nasr Al Din, a diplomat at Venezuela's embassy in Beirut. Besides Venezuela's close ties with Hizbullah, there is also the warm relationship between Caracas and Teheran, capitals with little in common save an avidity for petrodollars and a shared hatred of America and Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has made three official visits to Caracas in the last two years, has presented Chavez with Iran's highest honor for "supporting Teheran" in its nuclear standoff with the international community. WHAT ACCOUNTS for this Latin American populist's antagonism toward Israel, 6,500 miles distant, and his gestures of friendship to its foes? In part, Chavez's anger is stirred by the knowledge that Israel has been supplying his Colombian enemies in Bogota with drone aircraft, arms, ammunition and electronic equipment for use in combating the leftist FARC rebels Chavez supports. And he wasn't pleased when Israel joined Washington's arms embargo of Venezuela two years ago; or when Israeli defense officials thwarted Venezuelan bids to buy high-resolution satellite imagery. Chavez's anger at Israel is sometimes a matter of domestic political expediency, as when he likened the plight of Venezuela's Indians to that of the Palestinians, or when he wished to insult Colombia by calling it "the new Israel." But the darkest side of Chavez's fixation on the region is revealed in his intermittent bursts of anti-Semitism. About 12,000 Jews remain in the country. In an address he delivered on Christmas Eve in 2004, for instance, Chavez spoke of "minorities, the descendants of those who crucified Christ," who had "taken possession of the riches of the world." Such rhetoric bears all-too-real consequences. Since Chavez took office in 1999, an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism has surged throughout this Latin American country, which once provided haven for Holocaust survivors. The Sephardi Tifferet Israel synagogue suffered repeated attacks in the wake of pro-Chavez demonstrations. Club Hebraica, the Caracas Jewish community center, has endured two inexplicable police raids. And the verbal intimidation in the government-sponsored media is too pervasive even to list. CHAVEZ, who heads a regime that controls over 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the largest of any country in the Western hemisphere, is someone who shows no hesitation in wielding oil - or the disruption of supply - as a political weapon. He has warned, for instance, that oil prices will soar in the event of a strike on Iran. Tempting though it may be, therefore, to dismiss Chavez's ravings, we cannot turn a blind eye to them. We must protest his alliance with the region's terrorists and tyrants and ensure that Chavez pays dearly for befriending them. Yes, his meeting with Jewish leaders was welcome news - but only if it heralds a genuine change in policy toward Jews and the Jewish state.