Despite objections by major Jewish organizations
in Venezuela and the United States, some influential U.S. neoconservatives are
charging President Hugo Chavez with anti-Semitism, which they say is consistent
with the country's friendly relations with Iran.
In what appears to be a new line of attack against the populist leader, two
of the White House's favorite publications this week ran articles denouncing
remarks made by Chavez in a televised address to the nation Christmas Eve as
Quoting Chavez as declaring that "minorities, the descendants of those
who crucified Christ, have taken over the riches of the world," the Wall
Street Journal's "Americas" columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady,
charged that his words constituted an "ugly anti-Semitic swipe that was
of a piece with an insidious assault over the past several years on the country's
Her column, entitled "The New Tehran-Caracas Axis," came in the wake
of another article published Thursday in the neoconservative Weekly Standard
that also focused on Chavez' Christmas Eve broadcast as evidence, along with
his "alliance" with Iran, of anti-Jewish animus.
"On Christmas Eve, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez's Christian-Socialist
cant drifted into anti-Semitism," began the article, titled "Blast
From the Past: Hugo Chavez veers into anti-Semitism while explaining how to
create a workers' paradise," by Aaron Mannes, author of the "TerrorBlog"
and a book on Middle East terrorism published by the Jewish Institute of National
To his credit, Mannes' rendition of Chavez' remarks included a phrase in the
middle of the sentence that was omitted by O'Grady, which identified "the
descendants" not only as those "that crucified Christ," but also
"the descendants of the same ones that kicked [South American liberator
Simon] Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there
in Santa Marta, in Colombia."
As additional evidence of Chavez' anti-Semitism, Mannes cited his past association
with "Holocaust-denying Argentine social scientist Norberto Ceresole,"
his praise of imprisoned terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as the
retired terrorist "Carlos the Jackal," and his meetings with former
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. Mannes also
cited Chavez' "alliance" with the Islamic Republic of Iran and its
president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel's destruction.
Nor was this the first time that the Weekly Standard, which, along with
the Journal, has depicted Chavez as a dangerous demagogue inimical to
U.S. interests in South America and beyond, has charged the Venezuelan leader
In another article last August, for example, it wrote that "[h]ostility
to Jews has become one of the hallmarks of the Venezuelan government" under
Chavez "and of Chavismo, the neo-fascist ideology named for him."
The article pointed in particular to a raid carried out on the Hebraica Jewish
elementary school in Caracas in November 2004 by police commandos who were allegedly
searching for weapons linked to the bombing that killed a local prosecutor,
amid rumors that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad may have equipped the
"The Hebraica raid was not an isolated or random act of state-sponsored
anti-Jewish violence," wrote the Standard's Thor Halvorssen, president
of a New York-based group called the Human Rights Foundation, who noted that
the raid coincided with Chavez' visit to Teheran. As O'Grady wrote Friday, the
raid was "a way to show Tehran that Venezuela is on board."
What is remarkable, however, is that the charge of anti-Semitism, which recalls
remarkably similar accusations by the Reagan administration, neoconservatives,
and the Wall Street Journal against Nicaragua's Sandinista government
20 years ago, does not appear to be shared either by close observers of Venezuelan
politics here, nor by some prominent U.S. Jewish organizations, nor even by
the leadership of the Jewish community in Venezuela.
"Chavez has a lot of rage," noted Michael Shifter, an influential
and oft-quoted Andean specialist and vice-president of the Inter-American Dialogue,
who has been outspoken in his criticism of the Venezuelan leadership, "but
it hasn't been driven toward Jews in particular."
The Hebraica raid was ordered by a local judge acting on his own initiative
without the approval or direction of the central government, according to Shifter.
As to the anti-Semitic interpretation of Chavez' Christmas Eve remarks by O'Grady
and Mannes, who in fact were echoing a formal protest to Caracas last week by
the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, it was explicitly rejected by
Fred Pressner, president of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela
(CAIV), as well as two major U.S. Jewish groups.
"You have interfered in the political status, in the security, and in
the well-being of our community," according to a draft letter from the
CIAV to the Wiesenthal Center obtained by The Forward, the largest-circulation
Jewish newspaper in the United States. "You have acted on your own, without
consulting us, on issues that you don't know or understand."
"We believe the president was not talking about Jews and that the Jewish
world must learn to work together," according to the draft letter, which
noted that the latest protest was the third time that the Wiesenthal Center
had publicly criticized Chavez without first consulting the local community.
The two U.S. groups the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish
Congress, both of which have Latin America divisions echoed Pressner's
contention that Chavez' comments, when considered in their full context, including
sentences that both preceded and followed the (already abridged) sentence quoted
by O'Grady and Mannes, were not aimed at Jews.
Rather, they believe the target was the white oligarchy that has dominated
Venezuela's and South America's economy since colonial times a theme that
has dominated much of Chavez' political rhetoric for the past seven years.
Whether that will make any difference in the public or internal administration
debate over U.S. policy towards Chavez is doubtful, however, as both the Journal
and the Standard reach a much wider audience than The Forward
and are particularly influential in key administration offices, notably that
of Vice President Dick Cheney. The New York Times has reported that the
White House receives 50 copies of the Standard, which is edited by William
Ironically, Kristol's father, Irving Kristol, and the Journal's editorial
page to which he contributed, led a public campaign to discredit Argentine publisher
Jacobo Timerman when he emerged in 1980 from two-and-a-half years of imprisonment
in secret prisons in Argentina claiming that Jews like himself had been systematically
singled out for the worst treatment and torture by a military regime whose ideology
was as close to Nazism as any since World War II.
Unlike Venezuela today, Argentina was then seen by the incoming Ronald Reagan
administration (1981-1989) and its neoconservative backers as a vital Cold War
(Inter Press Service)