Last week, Tablet Magazine’s Matthew Fishbane published some startling allegations about Venezuela’s treatment of its wealthy citizens — particularly Jews. Fishbane, who recently visited Bogotá, Colombia, noticed that there was an influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing their Venezuelan homeland.
It has been actions taken since the 1998 presidential election of Hugo Chávez, he contends, that have led to a noticeable level of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. As a result, half of Jews have responded by abandoning their homeland. In fact, the community, which was once comprised of tens of thousands of Jews, has purportedly been pared down to between 5,000 and 6,000.
In 2010, the Jerusalem Post made similar claims, citing violence, the economy and anti-Semitism for the decline. At that time, Salomon Cohen, the head of Confederacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV), a group that represents the nation’s Jewish community, said, “Ten years ago we had about 18,000 members. Now we have about 9,500.”
“First, the economy is not going like it was 10 years before. Second, security in general is very, very bad,” he said. “We have too many killers in Venezuela. We had about 200 attacks on the community. When they want to speak about Venezuela negatively they call it the ‘Israel of South America,’ for instance.”
Fishbane gives a description of what he saw in Bogotá on his recent trip — one that leaves inquisitive minds asking, “Why?,” as he explores the new population of immigrants that are finding their way to the South American country:
The new arrivals were mainly rich Venezuelans fleeing an increasingly chaotic situation in their home country: oil execs booted out by nationalization, industrialists frustrated by the corrupt and now hostile business environment, successful entrepreneurs and others displaced by a newly minted Russian-style oligarchy loyal to Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. These transplants, many of them Jews, were arriving in the Colombian capital and prospering because they had tremendous skills and valuable international connections—and because they were coming with their social and business ties intact.
The history of the Jewish migration to Venezuela is an interesting one. Fishbane explains:
Jews had first arrived in Venezuela from Curaçao, a haven from the Inquisition, in the 19th century. “Turcos”—the catch-all term for anyone of roughly Middle-Eastern coloring or north African descent, regardless of their religion—had been arriving in the country since the 1900s. And a long tradition of lenient immigration policies—especially after World War II, based in part on the need for expertise and manpower to exploit the country’s single most important resource, oil—meant that Europeans, Iberians, Chinese, Russians, and other Latin Americans were all welcome there. Venezuelans came in all colors and had intermarried for centuries, fashioning a fully mestizo culture brewed from the descendants of indigenous people, Spanish colonials, African slaves, and 20th-century immigrants. Jews were a tiny, accepted minority.
Over the years, Chávez has begun to target the nation’s upper class (and according to some commentators his supporters have explicitly targeted Jews). In addition to his anti-capitalistic rhetoric, he has been working to build a relationship with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a Holocaust denier who hasn’t been shy about showing his own vicious brand of anti-Semitism. Chávez and Ahmadinejad have continued to build a diplomatic relationship.
Additionally, Chávez has been a harsh critic of Israel. In 2010 he said, “…one day the genocidal state of Israel will be put into its place, and let’s hope that a really democratic state emerges there, with which we can share a path and ideas.” On another occasion, he reportedly said, “Israel is a cursed, terrorist murderer, long live the Palestinian people.”
Fishbane claims that the Venezuelan leader has learned to exploit anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as a “valuable political tool.” Considering these elements and the potential future they could pose to the Jewish people, nearly half of the population has fled, Fishbane corroborates. These individuals, seeing the economic and social pathway that Chávez has set in action, have abandoned the nation they once called home.
Considering the Iranian-Venezuelan relationship and the economic changes being made, these individuals couldn’t help but feel targeted by the leader’s regime. And with no end to Chávez’s rule in sight, leaving proved to be the best path forward in terms of sustaining their lives and businesses.
You can read more about this story in Tablet Magazine and watch a video interview that further explains the situation, below:
(H/T: Tablet Magazine)