Venezuela: arrests made in synagogue attack, conspiracy vultures descend

Venezuelan investigators announced Feb. 8 the arrest of seven police agents and four civilians in connection with the Caracas synagogue attack. The Venezuelan public prosecutor’s office said the civilians included at least one security official from the synagogue. “These people were apprehended during raids carried out between Saturday and the early hours of Sunday in different parts of Caracas. They will all be charged by the Public Prosecutor’s office,” the office said in a statement.

The attack sparked international condemnation of President Hugo Chávez, who last month expelled Israel’s ambassador over the assault on Gaza. Members of the US Congress said in a letter that Chávez had fostered a climate of fear against the Jewish community, and the World Jewish Congress expressed similar criticisms. Representatives of World Jewish Congress met with Venezuelan officials on Feb. 6 and said the government had promised to clamp down on anti-Semitic acts. (Reuters via Ha’aretz, Feb. 8)

“What a coincidence”
“What a coincidence, the gang leader is a metropolitan police officer who for the last four years was the personal bodyguard of the synagogue’s rabbi,” Chávez said in an interview with Venevision TV after the arrests. (Reuters, Feb. 8)

Police are now posted outside the synagogue, and prosecutors say the temple’s own security guards “could be involved.” The detained men have been ordered to appear in court on Feb. 13—two days before Venezuelans vote in a referendum that could enable Chávez to extend his rule indefinitely. (AP, Feb. 7)

Jew-baiting propaganda
One week before the attack, a chavista columnist named Emilio Silva posted a call to action on Aporrea, a pro-government website, describing Jews as “squalid”—a term Chávez often uses to describe his opponent—and exhorting Venezuelans to confront them as anti-government conspirators: “Publicly challenge every Jew that you find in the street, shopping center or park, shouting slogans in favor of Palestine and against that abortion: Israel.” (AP, Feb. 7) The article as it appears on Aporrea now contains an editorial disclaimer, saying that many readers found it anti-Semitic and at odds with the values of the “Bolivarian Process.”

Pro-Chávez media have also recently implied a Jewish conspiracy behind the opposition student movement. Last month, in a broadcast of his TV show, “La Hojilla” (The Razor), host Mario Silva said: “There are two students—one is Diego Aaron Scharifker, and the other David Smolansky Urosa. Scharifker and Smolansky are last names of Hebrew origin, Jewish last names—you see the problems right now.” (IHT, Feb. 8)

In a piece on the Monthly Review website, “Chavismo: Christian, Anti-Nazi, Pro-Muslim, and Pro-Jewish,” Roy Chaderton, Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, disavows “loose cannons” who are attracted to the rhetoric of the Boliviarian movement. He notes the example of a poster at the “necessary and legitimate” protests at the Israeli embassy in Caracas during the Gaza assault reading “We condemn Hitler for not having completed his work of extermination.” (MR, Feb. 2)

Although Chávez derided the authors of the attack as “counter-revolutionary criminals,” he also ordered the arrest of ValentĂ­n Santana, leader of the chavista group La Piedrita, which had claimed responsibility for recent attacks on the Vatican Apostolic Nunciature in Venezuela, and the opposition COPEI party headquarters. (Xinhua, Feb. 9; El Universal, Caracas, Feb. 8)

In ordering the arrest, Chávez blasted the “anarchy of groups who say they are revolutionaries, say they are chavistas, but are really criminals… are really sticking the knife in Chávez.” (Informador, Mexico, Feb. 9 from EFE, Notimex)

Calls had been issued for Santana’s arrest at a mass “no means no” rally against Chávez’s re-election proposal Feb. 7. Local media said more than a half-million participated in the opposition-led march. (AFP, Feb. 7)

Jews deny “conspiracy”
Apparently choosing not to respond to Chávez’s implied claims of Jewish complicity in the attack, Elias Farache, president of the Venezuelan-Israelite Association, applauded Venezuelan authorities for responding rapidly. “We thank the authorities for the quick detention of the suspects,” he told the Associated Press. (AP, Feb. 8)

Days earlier, the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela (CAIV) issued a statement that was delivered in a meeting with Venezuelan cabinet ministers, expressing its “rejection of rumors that would involve the Jewish community of Venezuela in a conspiratorial plot against the national government, as well as any attempt to politicize this reprehensible act.” (El Universal, Feb. 4)

Conspiranoids make hay
The conspiracy set will, of course, be beside themselves with glee at the apparent arrest of a synagogue security official. The first to weigh in is Gabriel Ash, writing on the “anti-Zionist” Jews sans Frontieres blog. He starts by stating the supposed “convenience” of the attack to Israel’s apologists:

Why should there be condemnations of Chavez, who strongly condemned the vandalism? Because this is the line now. Everybody in the media says it: if you criticize Israel with the tone that it deserves, you create a “climate of antisemitism.” Chavez is the iconic leftist leader, and therefore can be used to “prove” the line.

Presumably Ash wrote this before the “what a coincidence” line. But even before that, Chávez warned that Venezuela’s Jews were being “used” by the “Venezuelan bourgeoisie” by turning the attack into an “international scandal.” (Is there a reason that an attack on a synagogue should not be an “international scandal”? Should Venezuela’s Jews remain silent about the attack just because it loans convenient propaganda to the US and Israel? Ash himself sensitively writes: “I wouldn’t moderate one word in anything I wrote about Israel even I knew [sic] it would stoke antisemitism.” But Venezuelan Jews should “moderate” their reaction to a synagogue attack because of its potential propaganda implications?)

Ash quickly jumps to his case that the global wave of anti-Jewish backlash since the Gaza assault may be in large part “manufactured”:

Wouldn’t it be convenient if someone burnt a synagogue just in time to help them make the case? …Anybody familiar with Venezuelan politics knows that the police is a stronghold of the opposition. Chavez had to introduce army units to do police work because the Caracas police only protects the rich suburbs and participates in racketeering. So now we have seven police officers and a guard at the synagogue suspect of involvement in attacking the synagogue. The information is still too sketchy for a conclusion, but this begins to look like a classical US sponsored false flag job.

Nice of Ash to admit that the facts aren’t in yet—but then why engage in this baseless speculation? No evidence that the arrested cops are linked to the conservative opposition. No evidence that the synagogue security official (even if guilty) was acting with the connivance of his superiors. This theorizing is no more legitimate than the speculations that chavista elements were behind the attack. And of course Ash’s rhetorical question “how much of [the anti-Semitic backlash] is manufactured?” implies that the attacks and threats in Lithuania, Indonesia, Egypt, Yemen, France, etc. were also “false flag jobs”—on even less evidence.

It would sure be “convenient” if we lived in a world where anti-Semitism was only a Zionist propaganda device. Unfortunately, reality has a habit of being more complicated than dogmatists of either the left or bourgeois-Zionist-imperialist-etc. variety would like to admit.

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Or, as we suspect is more likely, give us some grief:

  1. More details emerge in Caracas synagogue attack case
    AP reports Feb. 9:

    A security guard and a police officer who worked as a bodyguard for a local rabbi are among the suspects accused of ransacking and vandalizing a Caracas synagogue, Venezuela’s justice minister said Monday.

    Tareck El Aissami said that one of the two security guards on duty during last month’s attack at the Tiferet Israel Synagogue helped intruders by cutting electricity cables feeding an electric fence surrounding the building and deactivating the alarm.

    The security guard was among 11 people, including eight police officers, who were arrested over the weekend, El Aissami said.

    El Aissami said a city police officer who he said worked as a bodyguard for a local rabbi until December organized the assault.

    Authorities are searching for additional suspects, he said.

    The police force in question appears to be the Caracas Metropolitan Police—whose loyalty to Chávez has been questioned. In a Nov. 27, 2008 piece on ZNet on that month’s state and local elections in Venezuela, George Ciccariello Maher notes the opposition’s win in Caracas:

    We would be wrong to interpret this opposition coup in the metropolitan area of Caracas as having merely political implications: in the last real coup, in 2002, the opposition-controlled Metropolitan Police played a key role in staging the bloodbath used to justify Chávez’s ouster. And given the fact that in many areas the Metropolitan Police have effectively withdrawn, allowing revolutionary popular militias to control security, the next few years could see open warfare once again on the streets of Caracas. This victory for the opposition, while slim in margin, is potentially massive in its implications.

    Yet, in the November 2007 repression of anti-Chávez student protests, VenezuelAnalysis reported that the officers who used tear gas and water cannons against the demonstrators were also from the “Caracas police force.”

    A political split in the Caracas police? Meanwhile, the Venezuelan daily El Universal informs us Feb. 9 that among the arrested officers is one Yadira Torres, a detective with the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC). The CICPC’s website indicates that is not a body of the Metropolitan Police, but of the national Ministry of Popular Power. The Universal account tells us the authorities see a monetary motive in the attack:

    According to a report provided by sources of the CICPC, the attack was due, unofficially, to the fact that one of the defendants, Edgar Alexander Cordero, an officer of the Metropolitan Police who was also a bodyguard of one of the rabbis of the synagogue, asked him for a loan and when the rabbi refused, Cordero decided to plan the robbery of the synagogue, since he thought that the safes had plenty of money.

    But in that case, why the Torah desecrations and anti-Semitic graffiti?