June 17, 2019

Israel’s Hard Choices in Venezuela

Those old enough will remember when Iran kidnaped American diplomats at the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979. That hostage-taking of Americans was real.

In Venezuela, the tiny Jewish community has reason to fear that the desperate Maduro regime might also really “take it hostage” for any number of reasons. The Trump administration has asked Israel to back America’s campaign to support Juan Guaido, leader of the democratic opposition, against Maduro’s dictatorship. Elliott Abrams is playing a critical role as the U.S. special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela.  Because of legitimate concerns for the safety of Venezuela’s dwindling Jewish population, Israel had to tread carefully. On the other hand, the Venezuelan regime has long been a legitimate menace to Jews — and not just in Venezuela. This is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone ahead and recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

Just last month, the Iranian government launched a destroyer with stealth properties — allowing it to avoid radar detection — that will be based in Venezuela. Rear Admiral Touraj Hassani Moqaddam of the Iran navy has announced, “Among our plans in the near future is to send two or three vessels with special helicopters to Venezuela in South America on a mission that could last five months.” Iranian intermediate-range missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland have been based in Venezuela for years. Russia, Cuba and Maduro’s Venezuela have had a triple military alliance.

When Hugo Chávez was alive, the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report documenting Venezuela’s descent into authoritarian rule. Casualties so far: fair elections, an independent judiciary, an uncensored media, freedom of religion, the rights of political prisoners. Now, there is mass starvation, bloodshed in the streets and accelerating flight abroad. Beneficiaries are narco-terrorists financed by Chávez, like those who a few years ago threatened Colombia, who could menace the U.S.’s southern border.

Expelling  Israel’s ambassador in 2009, Chávez’s frightening mutual admiration society with geno-cidal anti-Israel Iran was paralleled by his special relationship with Sheikh Nasrallah of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, identified by Interpol as the perpetrators — at Iran’s behest — of the murderous 1994 attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr Al-Din — formerly charge d’affaires at Venezuela’s embassy in Syria and director of political affairs at its embassy in Lebanon — as one of the key “facilitators and fundraisers” for Hezbollah.

Chávez was long associated with extreme leftist Venezuelan anti-Semites such as William Izarra, Diego Salazar, Juan Salazar and Kléber Ramírez, as well as extreme rightist anti-Semites from Argentina such as Norberto Ceresole, Aldo Rico and Mohamed Seineldín. In 2003, his government-controlled media incessantly equated “Hitler and Sharon.” In 2004, while Chávez was on a state visit to Iran, his police mounted a 6:30 a.m. raid on Caracas’ Club Hebraica, which had a Jewish day school attended by 1,500 children. The children of the Caracas Jewish community were held hostage while Chávez’s uniformed thugs ostensibly looked for contraband arms smuggled in from Israel. Chávez blamed “the descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ.”

Chávez revealed himself not as the latter-day Bolívar he claimed to be but as a new incarnation of fascist Juan Peron. His inspiration was Argentina’s leading Peronista ideologue, Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole, author of the anti-Semitic blueprint called “The Plan.”

The writing on the wall — boycott threats, synagogue takeovers, desecration of Torah scrolls and pipe bombings — could have been set to Wagner’s apocalyptic music. Is it any wonder then that the Exodus of Venezuela’s Jewish population — including disproportionately younger and wealthier members — continues, including to Israel?

With so much already on its plate, Israel had unpalatable choices in Venezuela. Netanyahu should be commended for making a difficult but wise choice by recognizing Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman is a historian and co-author of “From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, African Americans.”