Sowing Hatred in Venezuela
A prominent challenger to President Hugo Chávez isn’t Jewish, but his roots are. That’s enough for the regime.
Both Duquenal and Sammy Eppel point to the enduring influence over Chávez of Norberto Ceresole, the late Argentinian fascist intellectual with whom he struck up a friendship. “Ceresole was like the parrot on Chávez’s shoulder,” Eppel says. “He wanted bring the far left and the far right together, and he persuaded Chávez that he was the man to do that.” Once Chávez, following Ceresole, aligned the dregs of fascism with those of communism, anti-Semitism became the ideological glue binding the Chavismo model of government, in which the relationship between the leader and his people is central, unencumbered by pesky interferences like an independent judiciary. It is no accident, Eppel believes, that the first chapter of a book by Ceresole extolling this model was titled “The Jewish Problem.”
Occasionally, the vulgar rhetoric of Venezuelan anti-Semitism has strayed into physical attacks. In January 2009, an armed gang stormed the Tiferet Israel synagogue in Caracas, spraying choice slogans like “Damned Israel, Death!” on its walls. This particular theme echoed a speech that Chávez delivered in China in 2006, in which he claimed that Israel had “done something similar to what Hitler did, possibly worse, against half the world.”
In a monograph published in April, “Chávez, The Left and The Jews,” the academics Claudio Lomnitz and Rafael Sanchez contend that in Chávez’s Venezuela, “politics and political life represent a kind of hand-to-hand combat between the ‘people,’ united by ‘love,’ and its enemies, united by hatred—the ‘ire’ that Ceresole imputes to the Jews.” Such cloyingly emotional, anti-rational politics are the perfect breeding ground for the fantasies about Jewish power that Chávez has actively promoted and that will doubtless be wheeled out against Capriles as the election approaches.
For Venezuela’s remaining Jews, these anti-Semitic fantasies underline their own harsh reality. Diego Arria describes the community as having been “decimated”; under Chávez, its numbers have declined from a height of 30,000 to just 9,000. Moreover, the Chavista bureaucracy seemingly delights in placing obstacles in the community’s way. Just before Passover this year, the interior ministry announced that extra sanitary permits would be needed if the importation of matzo, the unleavened bread consumed during the festival, was to be approved. And when the Jewish community needs to make official representations, its leaders are directed to the Foreign Ministry—proof, Sammy Eppel asserts, that the regime fundamentally regards Jews as aliens, not Venezuelan citizens.
All the indicators are that Venezuelan Jews will continue to leave the country, heading for more benign destinations like Colombia, Mexico, and Miami. “They are an integrated Latin community, so they go where there is a Latin culture,” says Eppel. “This isn’t a Polish shtetl.” It is possible that a Capriles victory will stem the tide of emigration, but even then, the years of destruction wrought by Chávez will remain a powerful push factor for Jews and non-Jews alike.
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