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Why Jews Are Fleeing Venezuela

Government anti-Semitism, Chávez style.

12:05 PM, Feb 28, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Much like Fidel Castro, his ideological soulmate, Hugo Chávez is fond of denouncing his critics as “fascists” and “Nazis,” regardless of whether those critics are U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill, heads of state in Europe, or opposition presidential candidates in Venezuela. Yet in his militarization of society, his promulgation of chauvinistic nationalism, and (above all) his persistent use of anti-Semitic demagoguery, Chávez himself is much closer to 1930s-style fascism than any of his democratic opponents.

Chavez Hugo

Consider the ongoing efforts to smear Henrique Capriles, the man who will represent the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) in Venezuela’s October 2012 presidential election. Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, is a practicing Catholic, but his grandparents were European Jews who escaped Nazism, and his great grandparents were murdered at Treblinka. Immediately after he won the MUD primary vote on February 12, the pro-Chávez state-run media began attacking him with a fusillade of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Prominent Jewish leaders swiftly condemned the bigotry and demanded action from Caracas. “We urge President Chávez to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the elections date approaches,” declared Shimon Samuels, director for international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The people of Venezuela should forcefully reject the tactics of the Chávez regime to recycle classical anti-Semitic canards branding Jews as disloyal, as a menace to the values of the country, as capitalists responsible for the misery of others, and as being part of an international Zionist Lobby,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Chávez has yet to issue a public repudiation of the anti-Semitic vitriol being spewed by his government press outlets. No surprise there. The scapegoating of Jews has become a depressingly familiar feature of his Bolivarian Revolution. This phenomenon, along with rampant crime, the erosion of democracy, and a national economic implosion, has contributed to a massive out-migration of Venezuelan Jews.

As journalist Matthew Fishbane writes in Tablet magazine, many of them have relocated to Bogotá, Colombia, a city that was once horrifically violent but is now “an island of safety and peace” compared with Caracas. The Venezuelan capital used to have “tens of thousands” of Jewish residents, notes Fishbane, but over the past decade their numbers have plummeted. The exodus from Caracas reflects a national trend: “As the reality of Chávez’s durability has set in, nearly half of Venezuela’s Jewish community has fled from the social and economic chaos that the president has unleashed and from the uncomfortable feeling that they were being specifically targeted by the regime” (emphasis added).

Here’s a brief list of incidents and remarks that have fostered such an “uncomfortable feeling”:

* In a speech delivered on Christmas Eve 2005, Chávez said that “the descendants of those who crucified Christ” were among the minority groups who had “seized the world’s riches.”

* In December 2007, state police raided the most important Jewish social club in Caracas (La Hebraica). Not coincidentally, they conducted this raid on the same day that Venezuelans were voting in a national referendum on presidential term limits. (“Masked and armed police piled over the walls as elementary-school children arrived for class,” writes Fishbane.)

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