The Sept. 22 Daily News carries the front-page headline: “BIG APPLE TO BIG MOUTH: ZIP IT!” It gleefully quotes various New York politicians bashing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for calling Bush a “devil,” including Sen. Chuck Schumer (“despicable and disgusting”), Gov. George Pataki (“The best thing he can do is go back to Venezuela and try to provide freedom for his people”) and Rep. Charles Rangel (“I draw the line at allowing a foreign leader to come to my country and my community to personally insult my president”). The story also has further inflammatory quotes from Chavez’s “rambling 90-minute rant” at Harlem’s Mount Olive Baptist Church, where he was flanked by actor Danny Glover, City Councilman Charles Barron and author Cornell West. Reiterating the facile if obvious “devil” epithet, Chavez backed up the charge with the following comments:
“I said he was a devil – yes, a devil. I think he’s a devil,” the Venezuelan president said in Spanish.
“Now, the most important thing is that a better world lives, and that the world rids itself of this menace,” Chavez said. “Because, without a doubt, it’s a menace to life and the world.”
Chavez also denounced a string of U.S. military actions over the decades – and seemed to include the 9/11 attacks.
“To use arms with chemical weapons like they used in Fallujah, to kill all forms of life, to take planes filled with passengers and smash them into the towers … the Twin Towers, that’s barbarism,” Chavez said – less than 9 miles from Ground Zero – as some in the audience hooted approval.
“The devil, yes, the devil,” Chavez said. “Seriously.”
Now, we have noted the real possibility that the US used chemical weapons in Fallujah, although the charge was never decisively proven. But the 9-11 reference is far more problematic, and what’s particulalry disturbing is that Chavez seems to have gone from merely entertaining the MIHOP thesis to accepting it as fact.
Chavez also spoke at the historic Cooper Union hall in the East Village, where the following incident was noted in a report by Nikolas Kozloff for VenezuelAnalysis:
Some people in the audience wore red, the official color of the Chavistas in Venezuela. Interestingly, I also noticed a group of Hassidic Jews dressed in formal attire.
The noted singer and activist Harry Belafonte introduced Chavez to the crowd… Chavez introduced notable figures sitting in the audience. Key among them was Roger Toussaint, head of the transit workers union in New York… Chavez then introduced the Venezuelan diplomatic staff…
In a rather bizarre twist, Chavez then turned to the Hassidic Jews in the audience and proclaimed that he had some Jewish friends and that Jews were treated well in Venezuela. “We are a friend of the Jewish people, but we are against Israeli aggression,” he remarked.
This possibly condescending exercise in tokenism was probably Chavez’s effort to respond to recent charges of anti-Semitism. We imagine the Hasids in attendance were members of the Neturei Karta sect, who are anti-Zionist as a matter of religious faith and are a frequent presence at New York area anti-Israel protests.
As for Chavez plugging Noam Chomsky and urging UN delegates to read his book Hegemony or Survival, the New York Times was amused that the Venezuelan leader expressed regret that he had not met the still-very-much-alive gadfly linguist before his death. We have problems of our own with Chomsky, but neither of the personalities involved are anywhere near as noxious as in the similar spectacle we witnessed earlier this year of Osama bin Laden plugging William Blum.
Chavez’s rather unsavory pal Mahmood Ahmadinejad of Iran also took the opportunity of his time in the city once immoratlized as “Hymie Town” to deny charges of anti-Semitism, telling a press conference (comments online at Washington Post):
No, I’m not anti-Jew. Jews are respected by everyone like all human beings. And I respect them very much.
Let us remember that in Palestine there are Muslims, Christians and Jews who live together. We speak of the Palestinian nation, of a people all in all embracing everyone. I never have said the Muslims in Palestine alone should decide about their fate.
They used to live freely together. But ever since the arrival of the British, with the imperialistic goals they had, and then the arrival of the Zionist system of thinking into that land, the problems were created.
So why not let the people there decide for themselves, and then let’s see what happens? Let’s give that a chance.
Gee, sounds perfectly reasonable. And it would be, if the charming Holocaust cartoon exhibition weren’t underway in Ahmadinejad’s Iran at the very moment.
Meanwhile, the more colorful New York Post front-page headline was simply “JERK!”, and the sub-head dubbed Chavez the “Crackpot of Caracas.” They can scoff all they want, but this “crackpot” is certainly the best thing for New York tabloid journalism since Son of Sam.
See our last post on Chavez.