Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez(Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Spain’s and Venezuela’s foreign ministers made an official visit to Caracas’s Tiferet Israel Synagogue to condemn the anti-Semitic attack perpetrated on it in January. That incident featured violence against two guards, burglary, desecration of a Torah, and graffiti. It was the Venezuelan minister’s second visit since the attack; the politicians also met with leaders of the country’s Sephardic community. “They sent a strong message repudiating anti-Semitism,” said the Latin American Jewish Congress’s director.

Here’s the problem. As this illuminating article in the latest Boston Review makes clear, President Hugo Chávez’s regime only holds such an enlightened attitude toward Venezuela’s roughly 12,000 Jews when it knows the world is watching. The Tiferet Israel attack came soon after Venezuela severed diplomatic ties with Israel in response to January’s Gaza incursion. According to the Review article, Chávez’s first instinct was to hypothesize that his regime’s opposition was responsible for the attack; only international pressure prompted an about-face and a series of arrests. Chávez has in the past claimed that Israel did “something similar to what Hitler did, possibly worse.” Jewish sites in Venezuela, including the Israeli Embassy, have previously been targets of vandalism.

Moreover, the article contends, such incidents and words are not aberrations, but rather are inextricably linked to Chávez’s populist appeal and the climate he deliberately cultivates: “Anti-Semitism is close to the intellectual heart of Chavismo,” it asserts. For example, the regime regularly utilizes anti-Semitism to discredit its opponents, as when a prominent anchor on a state television channel accused the owners of a Venezuela mall chain, the Cohens, of “financing all that is happening” in reference to the anti-Chávez student movement that gained momentum in late 2007. In other words, such pious displays as we saw yesterday are the exception to the rule. “In recent years,” notes the article, “the Jewish community in Venezuela has shrunk some 20 percent.”

Spanish, Venezuelan Foreign Ministers Visit Synagogue [JTA]
United By Hate [Boston Review]