Once a flowering, prosperous community contributing in all facets to the advancement and betterment of their society, Venezuela’s Jews now number fewer than 9,000. After 14 years of Hugo Chavez’s populist, strongman rule in which he harassed and intimidated the 22,000-strong Jewish community, most of the Jews left. To be sure, they fled Venezuela out of fear for their economic as well as their physical wellbeing, but it was the mean-spirited, almost playful delight he took in constantly singling out the Jews that drove them from the country that had been their home.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has described Chavez’ approach to the country’s Jews as “blatant and persistent antisemitism.” A handful of examples are enough to prove the accuracy of Foxman’s description.
In 2004, the police raided a Jewish school in what was described in a report out of Tel Aviv University as “perhaps the most serious incident ever to have taken place in the history of the Jewish community” in Venezuela.
In 2009, Chavez demanded of the Jewish Venezuelans that they renounce and rebuke Israel for fighting against Hamas in Gaza. Chief Rabbi Pynchas Brener told JTA “people are being taught to hate.”
In the 2012 presidential campaign, state-run media urged voters to reject Chavez’s opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, by associating him with “international Zionism” and describing him as part of the “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie.”
Last year a report surfaced that Venezuela’s intelligence service, SEBIN, has been spying on the Jewish community for years. This was happening as state-run radio regularly broadcast antisemitic messages and themes.
The anti-Jewish atmosphere had become so chokingly worrisome, that Jewish organizations in Caracas had even developed a contingent emergency plan to evacuate the country’s Jews. Apparently, according to JTA, the plan has not been put away.
A society inhospitable to Jews, history has taught us, will soon be inhospitable to a great many more.
And so it is now in Venezuela. The country is a social and economic shambles, bludgeoned by the brutish application of anti-western ideology, expedience, scapegoating and rampant antisemitism.
Following the ways of every demagogue who ever bent the rules of democracy, fairness and due process toward the massive black hole of his own narcissistic, nationalistic, jingoistic, malevolent ambitions, Chavez ran roughshod over the many individuals and groups who did not fit into his grand plan for his country.
But the grand planner died March 5 at the age of 58.
We hope his country will heal from the wounds he slashed into its body politic.