Venezuela: gunmen ransack Caracas synagogue

A group of 15 gunmen took over the oldest synagogue in Caracas the night of Jan. 30, ransacking the sanctuary, desecrating Torahs and spray-painting walls with anti-Semitic slogans in what Venezuelan Jewish leaders called the worst attack ever on their community. A security guard was overpowered and tied up at around 10 PM; the gunmen remained in the temple until 3 AM. Slogans left on the walls read “Damn the Jews,” “Jews get out” and “Israel assassins.” A crude representation of the devil was also scrawled on a wall.

The assailants broke down the synagogue’s door and threw scripture books on the floor. When they left, they took away computers, files and documents, officials said. They did not cover their faces, but took the recordings from security cameras with them.

The synagogue had canceled services in recent weeks because of a feared backlash from the Israeli military operations in Gaza, which resulted in the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Venezuela. David Bitan, vice president of the Jewish community in Venezuela, said an official complaint had been filed with the police. “This is a very complicated situation for the Jews in Venezuela,” he told the Israeli news agency YNet. “The slogans were not against Israel but against the Jews.”

Daniel Ben-Naim, spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Venezuela said the incident testified to the increasing hatred of Jews in the country. “We’ve never had such an incident. It looks well-planned,” he said. “We were afraid something like this would happen. The official press was becoming more and more anti-Israeli and anti-Jews. There are hundreds of anti-Semitic articles, ads, and fliers.”

Elias Farache, president of Venezuela’s Jewish Association, echoed the sentiment. “Never in the history of Venezuela’s Jewish community have we been the target of such an aggression,” he told BBC. “The climate is very tense. We feel threatened, intimidated, attacked.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned the “criminal act of vandalism” at the synagogue. “We call all the Venezuelan people, the entire Venezuelan community, to reject these actions, with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinian people,” he said, pledging the attack would be investigated.

Venezuelan Information Minister Jesse Chacon also condemned the attack, and denied it had any connection with the government. He said the government’s “excellent relationship” with Venezuela’s Jewish community was in no way affected by Israel’s actions.

President Hugo Chávez called his ambassador home from Israel on Jan. 6 to protest the “genocidal” Gaza offensive. Israel responded by ordering Venezuelan diplomats to leave, declaring them “persona non grata in Israel” earlier this week. “We respect the Jewish people, but we ask respect for the people of Palestine and their right to life,” Maduro said in a ceremony called to welcome home two Venezuelan diplomats from Israel this week. (AP via Haaretz, BBC News, CNN, Feb. 1; YNet, Jan. 31)

See our last posts on Venezuela, charges of anti-Semitism in Venezuela, the world politics of anti-Semitism and the Gaza backlash.

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