Venezuela: Chávez accuses rivals of exploiting synagogue attack

President Hugo Chávez condemned the Jan. 30 attack on Venezuela’s main synagogue in a Feb. 5 statement—but warned it was being used to fan unrest ahead of a referendum next week on his bid for unlimited re-election. “They accuse me of being anti-Semitic. I don’t hate Jews, and I call on all Venezuelan Jews not to let themselves be used,” Chávez said during a military parade in Maracay.

“The government rejects any attack against any temple of the Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or any other faith,” Chávez said in regard to the attack on the Tifert Israel Synagogue (also rendered the Mariperez Synagogue) by 15 armed men who destroyed scripture books and sprayed the building with anti-Semitic graffiti.

Chávez accused the “Venezuelan bourgeoisie” of turning the attack into an “international scandal” to promote anti-government unrest ahead of the Feb. 15 referendum on a constitutional amendment lifting term limits for elected officials. “Don’t let yourselves be used by the war laboratories of the bourgeoisie, who are trying to stop the ‘yes’ vote from winning,” Chávez told the Jewish community.

The referendum is Chávez’s second attempt at keeping himself in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two terms in office that expire in 2012. A similar referendum was defeated in late 2007.

Elias Farache, president of Venezuela’s Jewish Association, last week blamed the synagogue attack on tensions fueled by Chávez’s decision to break diplomatic ties with Israel in protest over the Gaza Strip offensive.

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met with Jewish leaders Feb. 4 to convey Chávez’s repudiation of the synagogue attack, which he later described to reporters as a “top-level professional, surgical operation” that was under close investigation. “We’ll capture [the culprits] and we’ll punish them with the full weight of the law, whoever they are,” he pledged. (AFP, Feb. 5)

Vatican office attacked —again
Three tear gas canisters were fired Feb. 4 at the Vatican’s diplomatic headquarters in Caracas—the second such attack in less than three weeks, church officials and local media reports said. There were no reported injuries, and damage was minimal. The incident occurred just hours after the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, which includes Catholics, issued a proclamation condemning the synagogue attack. Nobody has claimed credit for either attack.

The Vatican office in Caracas previously came under attack Jan. 19, when six tear gas canisters were fired. Three of them landed inside the building, although no one was seriously injured. (CNN, Feb. 4)

Chávez celebrates Chávez
Schools were shut, civil servants stayed home and banks cosed their doors after President Chávez, taking his country by surprise, declared Feb. 2 a national holiday to commemorate his rise to power 10 years ago and the start of his Bolivarian Revolution. “Be alert, for the sword of Bolívar strides through Latin America,” he said at a ceremony at the tomb of the liberation hero Simón Bolívar. (NYT, Feb. 3)

See our last post on Venezuela and the politics of anti-Semitism.

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