Israel Lobbies Chavez to Curb anti-Semitism in Venezuela

After Venezuela severed ties with Israel, Foreign Ministry asked int'l intermediaries to assist.

Israel has embarked on an intensive diplomatic campaign to persuade Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to rein in a recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks against Venezuela's Jews.

Over the last week, the Foreign Ministry has asked 15 different countries that maintain ties with both Israel and Venezuela to take high-level action on this issue. The use of international intermediaries is necessary because Venezuela severed diplomatic ties with Israel and expelled all its diplomats about a month ago, in response to Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

"There has been a significant outbreak of anti-Semitism there, and we wanted to send messages to Venezuela's president through several different channels in order to clarify the gravity with which we view the situation," a senior government source said. "We wanted them to know that in Israel's view, Chavez is responsible for the Jewish community's welfare."

Two of the countries whose assistance Israel requested are Argentina and Brazil, both of whose presidents subsequently called Chavez and relayed Israel's message. Another is Russia, and a fourth is Spain, whose foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos, is due to visit the Venezuelan capital of Caracas soon. In addition to passing on Israel's message, Moratinos has agreed to meet with leaders of the local Jewish community.

Israeli officials believe that the strong messages have begun to have an impact on Chavez's government: Venezuelan police recently arrested several suspects in the recent anti-Semitic attacks. However, there is still great fear among Venezuela's Jewish community, which numbers some 15,000 people.

Members of the Caracas Jewish community, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, told Haaretz that Chavez has thus far given tacit backing to the growing anti-Semitism, and he could also stop it if he so desired, by giving the necessary orders to his security services. "There's an atmosphere of intimidation against the Jews," said one.

During Operation Cast Lead, the largest synagogue in Caracas was vandalized by unknown assailants, and several Jews were physically attacked. Two weeks ago, a bomb was thrown at the Jewish community center in Caracas. In response to growing public criticism of such incidents within his own country, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro made a well-publicized visit last month to the synagogue that was attacked.