At the turn of the 19th century, Venezuela and Colombia were fighting against their Spanish colonizers in wars of independence. Simon Bolivar, considered Venezuela’s liberator, found refuge and material support for his army in the homes of Jews from Curaçao. Jews such as Mordejai Ricardo and brothers Ricardo and Abraham Meza offered hospitality to Bolivar as he fought against the Spanish, thus establishing brotherly relations between Jews and the newly independent Venezuelan republic. Several Jews even fought in the ranks of Bolivar’s army during the war. The ties between Jews in the Dutch island colonies and Venezuela increased more dramatically between 1819-1821 after its new constitution called for religious freedom. The history of Venezuela’s Jews is uneven…some places they were tolerate, others they were attacked. There has Never been, however, state sponsored Jew-hatred in the country until Hugo Chávez’s rise. One of his best friends is Iranian President “Ahmesheethead”and the more that Chávez consolidates his stranglehold on Venezuela the greater his oppression of his country’s Jewish Population.
Venezuelan Jews, long uneasy with the Chávez government’s alliances with Iran and other Middle Eastern countries that espouse anti-Israel views, are concerned that the government is sponsoring anti-Semitism in this hemisphere, a prominent journalist said Tuesday.”The situation we have now in Venezuela is that for the first time in modern history we have government-sponsored anti-Semitism in a Western country,” said Sammy Eppel. “That is why this is very dangerous, not just for the Jewish community in Venezuela but for the Jewish community as a whole.”Among the examples offered by Eppel:Venezuelan government intelligence services twice have raided the country’s most important Jewish center in a vague, ultimately unsuccessful search for weapons. Publications of the government’s cultural ministry run articles entitled ”the Jewish Question,” along with a Jewish star superimposed over a swastika.A PATTERN?These examples, according to Eppel, an analyst and journalist who has written for El Universal and El Mundo, among other publications, are evidence of a pattern of official intimidation against the country’s fast-dwindling Jewish population. Many of them have resettled in South Florida since President Hugo Chávez’s rise.About 30 people attended Eppel’s presentation Tuesday, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League at the Aventura Chabad. Many of the examples were excerpts from government-linked media.One 2006 article in El Diario de Caracas debates whether it will be necessary to ”expel [the Jews] from the country.” Another article in the Diario VEA accuses Jews of being involved in the murder of a government prosecutor.The Anti-Defamation League has admonished the Venezuelan government for making the Jewish community a “target for intimidation.””We have called on the Venezuelan government to cease their rhetoric and their intimidation of the Jewish community in Venezuela,” said Andy Rosenkranz, the ADL’s regional director for Florida. “It’s very poisonous anytime you have government-sanctioned anti-Semitism take root because it’s a dangerous atmosphere for the Jewish community but it also shows the world kind of intimidation and instigation that the government is capable of displaying.”AN ALLIANCEEppel drew connections between the anti-Semitism and Chavez’s alliance with the Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also stridently critical of the United States. ”Chavez actually believes he is going to defeat capitalism and the U.S.,” Eppel said.Venezuela’s Jewish community once numbered 30,000, but community leaders estimate that number has dropped dramatically during Chavez’s tenure in power. Several recently arrived Venezuelan Jews attended Eppel’s presentation and lamented the situation in the country.”It’s a very positive thing to get information on what’s going down there with our Jewish community,” said Aventura resident Steven Sznajderman, 59, a Venezuelan Jew who moved to South Florida a year ago. “There haven’t been physical attacks yet on [Jews] in Venezuela, but we have to be on the lookout.”