Venezuelan Jewish leader accuses Chávez of fomenting anti-Semitism

On the eve of the international London Conference on Anti-Semitism, Venezuelan Jewish community leader Sammy Eppel, director of the human rights commission of B’nai B’rith and columnist for the Caracas daily El Universal, accused President Hugo Chávez of leading a state-sanctioned campaign against the country’s Jews. Eppel said the campaign of anti-Semitism that hit world headlines with this January’s Venezuelan synagogue attack actually began with a raid on a Jewish school in Caracas in 2004. The police were looking for weapons and explosives, but he pointed out that the raid coincided with a high-profile visit to Iran by Chávez. “It was, if you like, a gift for Ahmadinejad, to say that ‘this is how I treat my Jews,'” Eppel said.

Eppel also noted that this Jan. 20—days before the synagogue attack—the pro-government news portal, Aporrea, published a “Plan of Action‚” which called for “confiscation of properties of those Jews who support the Zionist atrocities of the Nazi-State of Israel and [the] donation [of] this property to the Palestinian victims of today’s Holocaust.” It also called for members of “powerful Jewish groups” in Venezuela to publicly denounce by name, as well as the names of their companies and businesses in order to boycott them. Eppel said the plan “was a call to action, people were urged to confront Jews in the streets, they were talking about closing Jewish schools, confiscating Jewish property. It’s being done in government and the media and this should be troubling not just us but [the] whole world.”

He accused the government of making Venezuela a sort of laboratory of anti-Semitism. “It is like an evil experiment to try and convince the population, that has never been anti-Semitic, and try to introduce anti-Semitism into society,” he said. “This is the time to stop because it’s spreading hate, discrimination and is a flagrant violation of human rights and it could spread and be very dangerous.”

“[E]verything I present comes from open sources,” Eppel insisted. “I don’t speculate, it’s all documented and in the public domain. I’m not taking anything out of context nor inventing anything or presenting a theory.” After the synagogue attack, Eppel said that the pro-government media blamed the Mossad and the CIA. The Jewish community was also implicated, but Eppel said he has no doubt who was behind it. “When they give you a standard response like that, it puts a warning light and you immediately think it’s the government because why are they looking for excuses if no one has accused them?” (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15)

Eppel’s own newspaper El Universal meanwhile reported police statements that the Jan. 30 attack on the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue was motivated not by anti-Semitism but rather was a robbery. The paper said authorities believe a police homicide detective headed the gang that attacked the synagogue. The paper also quoted police sources that one of the robbers, also a police officer, who had served as the synagogue rabbi’s bodyguard, had thought up the robbery out of anger over the rabbi’s refusal to lend him money. The anti-Semitic slogans, the reports said, were painted to confuse police. (Haaretz, Feb. 16)

We submit that the robbery thesis makes no sense. Nobody desecrates a synagogue merely as a “diversion.” Profit was an ancillary motive at best. And the fact that El Universal is associated with the opposition does not loan the assertion credibility—it is merely reporting the police statements, not endorsing them. Finally, even if the synagogue attack really is a random anomaly, enough ugly Jew-baiting statements (such as those cited above and in our previous posts) have now appeared in Venezuela’s pro-government media to indicate that something is not quite kosher in the Bolivarian Republic…

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

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  1. Robbery not anti-Semitism?
    From VenezeulAnalysis, Feb. 10:

    Following a weeklong investigation of the burglary and vandalizing of a prominent Caracas synagogue, Venezuelan authorities have arrested eleven suspects, including a rabbi’s bodyguard who planned the crime, and a security guard who assisted the break in, Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami announced Monday.

    The attack on the synagogue occurred in the early morning of January 31st. Burglars tampered with security cameras, stole property, defaced sacred items including the Torah, and spray-painted the walls with anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli phrases.

    A confession by security guard Víctor Escalona revealed that a personal struggle over money was the motive of the crime. Edgar Cordero, a Caracas police officer and bodyguard of Rabbi Isaac Cohen had been denied a loan by the rabbi, so he planned to rob money from the synagogue’s coffers, and approached Escalona for assistance, according to investigators from the from Venezuela’s national Criminal, Penal, and Scientific Investigations Unit (CICPC).

    El Aissami said anti-Semitism was not the motive, but rather a tactic used for two purposes, “First, to weaken the investigation, and second, to direct the blame toward the national government.”

    El Aissami also detailed other evidence gathered during the investigation that implicated the security guard Escalona. “We observe that the fence was cut from the inside out and there is no evidence that would demonstrate that it was climbed or broken into from the outside,” said the minister, pointing to photos of the scene of the crime.

    “Another thing we found was that the security guard [Escalona] declared he had been tied up and did not see anything, but we discovered that at one o’clock in the morning he sent a text message to the rabbi’s bodyguard [Cordero],” and had been separated from other security guards who were tied up, El-Aissami reported.

    Escalona’s testimony led CICPC authorities to arrest a total of six metropolitan police officers, four civilians, and an investigator from the CICPC homicide department who were involved in the burglary, according to El-Aissami.

    The minister said the investigation has not concluded, and that arrest warrants have been issued for four more suspects who, according to fingerprints and footprints scanned by CICPC forensic experts, are suspected to have painted the anti-Semitic phrases on the walls of the synagogue.

    The results of the investigation so far negate accusations by government adversaries and opposition-aligned private media over the past week that the government inspired the attack, said El-Aissami.

    The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) congratulated the CICPC investigators Monday and denounced the private media and opposition leaders for using the synagogue attack as an electoral strategy against a proposed constitutional amendment that Venezuelans will vote on February 15th.

    “We want to endorse these actions by the police, which have permitted the detention of the alleged culprits of this vandalism that the Bolivarian Revolution rejected from the beginning,” said PSUV leader Vanessa Davies in a televised address. “We want to condemn these parts of the opposition that immediately blamed the National Government.”

    “They said that in Venezuela there was a government that persecuted citizens for their political or religious position,” Davies continued. “The Bolivarian revolution has demonstrated that in this country nobody is persecuted for their religious position. It would be wrong for the revolutionaries, who have been rounded up and persecuted in the past…to be the people who round up and persecute.”

    Government officials, including President Hugo Chávez, have repeatedly condemned the synagogue attack and met with leaders of the Venezuelan Jewish community to express their rejection of the attack and to discuss how to improve relations.

    Last Friday, Foreign Relations Minister Nicolás Maduro met with the general secretary of the World Jewish Congress, Michael Schneider, and the president of the Latin American Jewish Congress, Jack Terpins.

    In an interview with the private television channel Venevisión on Monday, Chávez said the result of the investigation is “a message to the Jewish family, which lives with us and is part of the great Venezuelan family…the Chávez government is not anti-Semitic.” The president also expressed his regret that corrupt Caracas police had been involved in the attack on the synagogue.

    Well, we’re glad that the official government position has at least avoided irresponsible speculation about Mossad being behind the attack. But robbery and anti-Semitism are not mutually exclusive theses. Desecrating Torahs and painting images of the devil strikes us as a long way to go to set up a diversion. It smells more to us like a conversion of motives. Maybe the cop’s beef with the rabbi was how whoever really planned the attack turned the cop as a collaborator.

    In any case, after the long litany of chavista Jew-baiting which has been brought to light by this episode, statements such as “the Chávez government is not anti-Semitic” sound almost as perfunctory and disingenuous as Ron Paul’s glib disavowals of racism.

  2. “Anti-imperialism of fools” in Venezuela?
    Hugo Chávez’s international fan club are doing logical somersaults to exculpate Bolivarian Venezuela of any taint of anti-Semitism. Israeli propaganda notoriously uses the charge of “anti-Semitism” to dismiss anti-Zionism, or any criticism of Israel. All too frequently, the left lets real anti-Semitism off the hook when it is under the guise (however transparent) of anti-Zionism or protest of Israel. In Venezuela’s political discourse (and that of the aforementioned fan club), real anti-Semitism is being let off the hook under the guise of “anti-imperialism.”

    A recent egregious case in point is “Anti-Semitism or Anti-Imperialism in Venezuela?” by James Suggett on VenezuelAnalysis Feb. 12. Emphasis is added and our deconstructions (at risk of belaboring the obvious) are interspersed:

    “We have to be very careful about what is going on in Venezuela, especially what is going on in the private universities,” Mario Silva asserts on his pro-Chávez television talk show La Hojilla (“The Razor Blade”) in late November 2007. The provocative host points out that in television news footage of a recent student march against proposed changes to the Venezuelan constitution, which were voted down December 2, a leader of the marchers crosses a police barricade and signals for the others to follow. Silva identifies this person as the brother of prominent Rabbi Jacobo Benzaquen.

    Amazing that anyone would attempt to let Mario Silva off the hook after his repeated Jew-baiting verbal attacks against members of opposition with Jewish last names.

    “I repeat, so as not to be called anti-Semite, those Jewish businessmen not involved in the conspiracy should say so,” Silva premises.

    This would almost be funny if it weren’t so clear that Silva really doesn’t get it. Whatever evidence he may be able to marshal for a conspiracy, calling on all the country’s “Jewish businessmen” to recant doesn’t let him off the hook for anti-Semitism—on the contrary, it is anti-Semitism. Why are Jews the only group leftists feel they can collectively tar on the basis of their ethnicity? OK, let’s see what Silva has got…

    He then draws the connection between the Benzaquens and another well-known Rabbi, Pinchas Brenner, who participated in the April 2002 coup d’état and appears in video footage with coup leader Pedro Carmona in the presidential palace where Carmona was declared the new (illegitimate) president. “These persons are actively participating in the conspiracy…and a lot of the [opposition] student movement now in activity is related to that group,” Silva declares.

    This justifies a Jewish conspiracy theory in which all Venezuela’s prominent Jews are presumed guilty until they publicly recant?

    La Hojilla and the government television channel that broadcasts it are implicated in the latest round of accusations of anti-Semitism published in the Miami Herald, the Washington Post, The Forward, the Moderate Voice, and the Jewish World Review and across the blogsphere by Jewish organizations in the United States and Venezuela. The “increasingly repressive” Venezuelan government’s anti-Semitism creates an “environment of permissiveness” for the “rising wave of anti-Semitism in Venezuela” by harassing Jewish organizations, permitting anti-Semitism in government media, opposing Israeli policies, and aligning itself with Iran, Syria, and “radical Islamic movements”. All of this could be interpreted by “xenophobes and anti-Semites” as “justification to commit violence against Jews,” according to a February 5th, 2008 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report published as an op-ed in the Washington Post.

    When the recent accusations of government-sponsored anti-Semitism are thoroughly investigated, shedding light on the full context and content of the acts under scrutiny, it is revealed that in the majority of cases, the strongly anti-imperialist political sentiments of Venezuelan social movements, however problematically they may be expressed within a precarious political climate, are erroneously conflated with anti-Semitism.

    Police Search Jewish School and Community Center
    What “conspiracy” was Silva lambasting in his November talk show? Critics imply that he was perpetuating baseless anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish aspirations for world domination. But real events and testimonies suggest Silva was instead targeting the alleged international conspiracy to overthrow President Chávez. Suspicion about this is based not only on the long history of such activity led by the United States government in Latin America and other parts of the world, but by specific evidence cited by Silva and the Venezuelan government which implicates leaders of this subversive activity, some of whom are members of the Venezuelan Jewish community.

    Again, Jewish and gentile members of Venezuela’s conservative opposition are doubtless involved in such intrigues—but it is the Jews that Silva presumes guilty on the basis of their ethnicity.

    In 2004 federal police searched, critics say “raided,” a Jewish school in Caracas. Recent critics allege that they conducted a similar search on December 1, 2007 in Hebraica, a sprawling private Jewish community center related to the school. Neither search discovered anything, nor was anybody repressed or hurt.

    We weren’t aware that the December 2007 raid was disputed. And what is wrong with the word “raid”? Armed police agents take over a school and conduct a search—in what sense does this not constitute a “raid”?

    Both searches were denounced as “inexplicable,” “anti-Jewish,” “harassment theatre,” and “intimidation” by various critics, including Abraham Levy Benshimol, president of the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela (CAIV), who acknowledges that no acts of anti-Semitic violence have been committed against the Venezuelan Jewish community. Those leading the outcry make abundantly clear that the searches were conducted when kids were present and there was a wedding taking place, but they ignore the broader context and further facts.

    No acts of anti-Semitic violence—until January 2009, that is. And what possible “broader context” could possibly justify a police raid on a school when it is filled with kids in the middle of the day?

    For instance, the search warrant for the 2004 search was granted based on evidence that the notorious Israeli intelligence organization Mossad may be connected to the assassination of a Venezuelan Federal Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, who was investigating the authors of the 2002 coup – including allies of Rabbi Pinchas Brenner – when he was murdered in a car bombing in an allegedly Mossad-like manner. The search was part of an investigation of Anderson’s murder, seeking information regarding the murder and possible future destabilization plans in facilities where suspects were known to operate.

    An “allegedly Mossad-like manner”? This constitutes “evidence”? We have already examined the speculation about an Israeli role in the Danilo Anderson assassination.

    Denunciations of last December’s search leave out the fact that it occurred the day before the controversial constitutional reform referendum. The run up to the referendum was intensified by a steep increase in acts of false propaganda and violent protest committed by people and organizations opposed to the reform in various regions of the country, which seemed part of a coordinated destabilization effort among large national and transnational businesses, student groups, and opposition political leaders.

    Once again—even if a campaign of dirty tricks was underway to throw the referendum, does this necessarily justify the raid? And, far from ignoring this timing, some critics have suggested that it was a play by Chávez to whip up paranoia and demonize the opposition in the prelude to the vote.

    In the Andean city of Mérida, in the weeks before the referendum, groups of up to 40 masked student protestors from the extremely violent March 13th Movement (M13) on multiple occasions blocked off major avenues with metal wire, burned hundreds of tires in the street, and threw glass bottles and Molotov cocktails at police officers who remained vigilant but never repressed the demonstrators.

    These types of protests, known as “guarimbas,” are nothing new; they were employed multiple times in the past during major political events so as to create an atmosphere of chaos, non-governability, and a basis for claims of police repression and illegitimacy of the political order, paving the way for a coup. On one occasion related to student government elections at the University of the Andes and an OPEP [presumably a reference to OPEC by its Spanish acronym—WW4R] meeting in the Spring of 2006, masked M13 members armed with shotguns and pistols assaulted police officers, leaving 26 injured and one officer nearly raped.

    Bad news. What has it got to do with the Jewish center that got raided?

    According to sources within the government, the search warrant for last December’s search was issued on evidence that the owner of major opposition television station Globovisión, Federico Alberto Ravel, was collaborating with a plan to assassinate President Chávez with the help of a particular member of Hebraica, a businessman who will remain unnamed, and that weapons or information regarding this were in the club’s complex.

    Police searches preceding, during, and following important political events must be considered in this precarious historical and political context. Some critics may look at the entire picture and conclude that the facilities of these Jewish organizations were singled out merely because they were Jewish, leading to accusations of anti-Semitic harassment.

    But claiming that the searches were “inexplicable” and leaving out the facts is revisionist and inaccurate. So are the manipulative conclusions published by the pro-government newspaper Diario Vea at that time, which claimed that the searches had “proven” that the Mossad had been involved in Anderson’s murder, for which no conclusive evidence was found in those particular searches. But even Diario Vea’s dishonest coverage does not amount to anti-Semitism, as prominent Venezuelan journalist and critic of anti-Semitism Sammy Eppel claims, just biased journalism.

    Yes, biased by anti-Semitism! In what sense is seeing non-existent Jewish conspiracies not anti-Semitism? If this isn’t anti-Semitism, the word has no meaning.

    Tarek El-Aissami
    In an apparent attempt to prove that the searches were conducted illegally, a January 20, 2008 article in The Forward cites Hebraica president Simon Sultan suggesting that the searches were initiated by Tarek El-Aissami, the Vice President of Citizen Security in the Venezuelan Ministry of the Interior. No actual irregularities in the searches is cited as evidence, just the fact that El-Aissami is of Arab descent, is the son a former Baath party representative in Venezuela, and works in the government. An article in The Jewish World Review on January 28th, 2008 does not bother to imply that Tarek El-Aissami may be connected to the searches, but rather presents the simple fact of his appointment to a position within the government as troubling and suspicious to the Venezuelan Jewish community.

    Don’t Venezuela’s national police answer to El-Aissami?

    El-Aissami is well-known in Mérida because he is a former president of the student association at Mérida’s prestigious University of the Andes. Extensive connections to student and government organizations provide El-Aissami with plenty of information about the activities of the M13, especially their spring 2006 assault referred to above, during which El-Aissami was a representative of the Youth Caucus of the National Assembly. In a May 2006 press conference at the National Assembly, he issued a report qualifying the M13’s actions as the “epicenter” of a national destabilization campaign that had a markedly “terrorist” character due to the “paramilitary” style of their execution and local reports of M13 paramilitary training camps in the surrounding Andes Mountains. El-Aissami’s report cited evidence that many of those involved in M13 actions are not students at all, but paramilitaries posing as members of the student group.

    El-Aissami informed the press that some of the information provided in his report came from investigations carried out in 2004 in Mérida by late Federal Prosecutor Danilo Anderson. Anderson was investigating violence perpetrated against the Mérida state government by M13 members including the group’s leader, Nixon Moreno, during the April 2002 coup.

    He then goes on to recount Israeli intelligence ties to the Colombian paramilitaries, which are real and well-documented elsewhere, but tangential to the situation in Venezuela. So we’ll skip a few paragraphs here. To continue:

    The possibility that El-Aissami initiated the Hebraica search should be considered in the context of El-Aissami’s political activity and the plethora of such investigations informing the Ministry of the Interior. El-Aissami’s Arab background and the Jewish identity of Hebraica seem unrelated to the fact that the searches were carried out, while the real political situation in Venezuela and the activities of a few participants in the community center seem much related. Second, the searches were not illegal nor were they carried out improperly. Claiming El-Aissami initiated the searches is to accuse him of doing his job, as Danilo Anderson was doing when he was murdered.

    Can you imagine leftists cutting this kind of slack for, say, the targeting of Islamic charities in the US by the FBI—which the government also asserts is “legal” and “proper”?

    A Plena Voz and Other pro-Government Media
    Considering the role of foreign intelligence organizations in Latin American history, Venezuelans’ consciousness of imperialist intervention in their country, and the details presented above help us see Silva’s program La Hojilla in a different light. Rather than demonize Jews in general, it reflects the preoccupation many Venezuelans have that opposition groups may be planning more violent anti-democratic activity with support from foreign intelligence organizations such as the CIA and the Mossad. A thorough examination of other pro-government media recently accused of anti-Semitism should be interrogated with this mentality and approach.

    Note again: Silva is exculpated of anti-Semitism—despite his obsession with Jewish last names—because of the undoubted foreign intelligence intrigues against Venezuela. This is akin to exculpating professional Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes by pointing to the existence of Islamist terrorism.

    Every recent accusation of anti-Semitism in the government media outlets denounces the monthly magazine of the Venezuelan Culture Ministry, A Plena Voz, particularly referring to an article titled “The Jewish Question” and an image of the Star of David with a Swastika. It is presented as though this magazine was advocating the Holocaust, but a look at the actual articles tells another story.

    The article titled “The Jewish Question” is accompanied by an image of a menorah with an Israeli tank on either side. Another A Plena Voz article titled “A Disgusting War” is accompanied by an Israeli flag with a Swastika in the middle rather than the Star of David. Another article in the same edition of the magazine is titled “Zionism, Colonialism, and Imperialism” accompanied by a Star of David with a Swastika in the middle. The clear target of criticism in these three articles is the military action conducted by the state of Israel, which is portrayed as similar or equal to the genocide committed by the Nazis. While Amherst Professor Ilan Stevens, in his February 7th, 2008 article “The Twisted Roots of Hispanic Anti-Semitism,” states that “comparing Israel’s attitude with Hitler’s approach is ridiculous,” we should not be so quick to conclude that historical comparisons which imply that genocide may be occurring in the Middle East are anti-Semitic.

    Let’s see. Leftists were all supposed to agree that the notorious Danish cartoons equating symbols Islam and symbols of terrorism were racist. But Venezuelan cartoons equating symbols of Judaism and symbols of fascism are not? Just asking. A few paragraphs later Suggett continues:

    Without a doubt, historical analogies, however inaccurate or controversial, relating Nazi genocide to Israeli oppression of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims abound in pro-government media. So does propaganda expressing solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people, speculations that Israeli death squads will assassinate President Chávez, and cartoons asking whether it is true that the Israel is chosen by God, concluding that Israel is chosen by the United States, which is sort of the same thing. But in most articles written on such themes, there is an explicit differentiation between the Israeli government and the Israeli people, between militant Zionists allied with the U.S. government and the Jewish community worldwide. The themes are explicitly anti-imperialist and anti-war, not against Jews in general.

    The pro-government weekly paper Diario Vea, however, in many instances refers to Jews and Israeli soldiers interchangeably, in which cases it seems Jews in general are being stereotyped as oppressors or conspirators. Likewise, an anti-Semitic article by Tarek Muci Nasir published in El Diario de Caracas on September 2, 2006, includes the phrase:

    “Possibly, we’ll have to expel them from the country, as other nations have done, which is the reason that Jews remain in a continuous state of stateless exodus, and it is why in 1948 they invaded Palestine, guided by Albion.”

    The article also claims that the Jewish race is condemned to disappear either through degenerative intra-breeding or mixture with non-Jews. It continues to assert that they are not the chosen people of God, but instead marked for having sacrificed Jesus (apparently because of the wars they wage), and that they are conspiring to take over the country’s finances. While the conclusion of the article declares that if the Jews get rid of their Zionist leadership, they will be embraced like brothers, this hardly veils the seething hatred for Jews as a whole espoused by the article.

    We thank Suggett for this generous concession.

    Venezuelan columnist Sammy Eppel posted on his blog a collection of graffiti sprayed on the walls of Jewish facilities in Caracas during Palestine and Lebanon solidarity marches, most of which are obviously anti-imperialist, but some of which may be anti-Semitic as Eppel claims.

    Graffiti that is more explicitly anti-imperialist reads: “Long live the Palestinian People,” “NO to Israeli snipers, NO to Mossad, NO to the CIA,” “Bush + Sharon = Murderers,” “Bush-Israel Murderers,” “Israel murderer,” “Genocidal Zionists,” and “Zionists Kill Children.” The fact that these messages were sprayed on the walls of organizations that included Jews of different political beliefs, classes, organizations, and not Israeli citizens could mean that the graffiti was associating all Jews with murder, the CIA, Mossad, Bush and Sharon. However, it seems that the clear target of these acts is the perpetrators of atrocities and imperialism rather than Jews in general.

    Other graffiti reads: “Jews = Murderers,” and “Jews go home.” The former targets the entire population Jews, and the latter suggests an expulsion of Jews, both of which should be denounced as anti-Semitic.

    The association of the Star of David with the Swastika, and of the state of Israel with genocide, is indeed more complex than it seems and in the majority of cases is not anti-Semitic; in the cases that it is, it should by all means be called out. The fact that Diario Vea and El Diario de Caracas have not been denounced formally by the government gives some merit to the criticism raised by Abraham Foxman of the ADL recently that the Venezuelan government is turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism in the country. However, categorizing all anti-imperialist sentiment in Venezuela as a government-sponsored “rising wave” of anti-Semitism is manipulative propaganda.

    Well, again, we’re glad that Suggett is capable of recognizing some ultra-blatant anti-Semitism as such. But when there is even the slightest room for ambiguity, he gives the Jew-baiters the benefit of the doubt. Putting aside the question of the degree to which it is “government-sponsored,” it seems pretty clear there is indeed a “rising wave” of anti-Semitism in Venezuela.

    President Chávez’s Declarations and Alliances with Iran and Syria
    The day Abraham Foxman’s ADL report was published by the Washington Post in the first week of February, Venezuelan Popular Economy Minister, Pedro Morejón, was in Tehran signing economic accords with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intended to alleviate the “difficulties that the imperialists impose” on “the two revolutionary and brotherly nations” which share a “unified stand in dealing with global hegemony,” the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Venezuela’s bilateral cooperation agreements with Iran in the areas of food, medicine, oil, services, and engineering have been consistently criticized by the ADL along with President Chávez’s staunch defense of what he says is Iran`s right to enrich uranium.

    The question raised is whether relationships among the heads of state of different nations signify full mutual endorsement of each other’s policies. ADL critics, the Venezuelan Jewish Community, and many others, supported by President Kirchner of Argentina on her recent visit to the CAIV national conference in Venezuela, express deep concern over the fact that Chávez ever wrapped his arms around Ahmadinejad or allowed him to cross Venezuelan borders.

    Chávez’s defenders assert that signing economic agreements is a humanitarian act which will alleviate poverty in Venezuela, and should be considered separate from the regional foreign policy or the religious orientation of the Iranian government. But Chávez’s words were clear; Ahmadinejad is a “brother revolutionary,” not just a source of investment that comes on less imperialist terms than that offered by the United States or other economic powers. Whether Chávez was referring exclusively to the economic portion of revolution is unknown, but his pronouncements should rightly cause alarm at least for queer rights groups and feminist groups across the globe that are aware of the immense sexuality and gender-based oppression in Iran.

    Nonetheless, it seems that Iran’s opposition to the policies of the Israeli government are the main objection of Foxman and other recent critics, and their conflation of anti-imperialism with anti-Semitism is incredibly damaging to honest discourse. For example, an ADL report from 2006 attempts to condemn President Chávez’s “fostering [of] anti-Semitism” by quoting Chávez in an interview with Al Jazeera: “Israel is right in criticizing Hitler and the hostility against Jews, we do to, but they are doing the same thing that Hitler did to the Jews. They are killing innocent children, entire families.”

    It is certainly no exoneration of Israel to point out that by no stretch of the imagination is it doing “the same thing that Hitler did to the Jews.” And if Foxman is only concerned with Iran’s opposition to Israel, that doesn’t mean Tehran is not busting unions, hanging gays, stoning adulterers, oppressing women, keeping down its own ethnic minorities, etc.

    Foxman also expresses concern about Chávez’s relationship with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who he claims is a “verifiable threat to Israel and world Jewry.” An example of supposedly troublesome Syrian-Venezuelan relations is the accord of solidarity with Lebanon presented by representatives of the Venezuelan National Assembly to Syrian officials in August 2006. Clauses of the accord condemn Israel’s “savage and terrorist aggression” against Lebanon, demand that Israel comply with United Nations resolutions to withdraw immediately from Lebanon and other Arab occupied territories, and request that the U.N. accelerate the process of humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict in Lebanon and Palestine.

    The ADL president suggests that the “attacks” upon Jews in Venezuela are “part and parcel” of Chávez`s efforts to “harass and intimidate” other groups such as the Catholic Church, the media, and multinational companies. Chávez’s complicity with anti-Semitism is a symptom of the general “breakdown of democratic ideals and institutions” in Venezuela, Foxman said, claiming “Chávez has turned public institutions into pawns of his regime.” Other recent articles flippantly label Chávez “proto-authoritarian” and present a false image that the president is inclined to persecute anybody who criticizes him.

    These ridiculous claims about the lack of democracy in Venezuela are just as dangerous to global peace and democracy as the assertion that opposing Israeli policies, being anti-war and anti-capitalist, or advocating the perspective of oppressed peoples worldwide are anti-Semitic.

    The constitutional reform that was defeated in December 2007 would have, among other things, “allowed authorities to detain citizens without charges and censor the media when the president declares a state of emergency.” Chávez’s proposed reorganization of the intelligence services that was withdrawn under protest last year would have made citizen collaboration with the political police mandatory. It is certainly a sign of hope that these proposals remain “would haves.” But let’s not be too quick to exculpate Chávez of “authoritarianism.”

    Carlos Escarrá, the Vice-President of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Venezuelan National Assembly, reflected this distinction between anti-semitism and anti-imperialism when he responded to Foxman`s ADL report, assuring that Venezuela “has always respected all ethnicities and cultures of the world… it is a country where there is freedom of worship and freedom of religion.” However, Venezuela also rejects any conduct that could mean the hegemony of one country over another. “We believe in life,” Escarrá explained, reaffirming that the Venezuelan government opposes those sectors of Israeli and U.S. society that serve the interests of United States hegemony in the Middle East by way of “state terrorism.”

    A little lip service from the Vice-President of the Foreign Relations Committee is none too comforting when synagogues are getting ransacked and chavista talking heads are making much ado about Jewish last names. The German socialist August Bebel long ago warned that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.” We fear that too many folks in Venezuela may be falling prey to an “anti-imperialism of fools.”