President Chavez discusses anti-Semitism concerns with Jewish leaders in VenezuelaBy Christopher Toothaker, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Chavez meets with Venezuela’s Jewish leaders
CARACAS, Venezuela — Leaders of Venezuela’s Jewish community met with President Hugo Chavez on Thursday to discuss their concerns about possible anti-Semitism in state media and to ask the socialist leader to re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
The Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations said its representatives gave the president a dossier containing numerous examples of anti-Semitic messages that have appeared “almost daily, and for several years, in state media and government-friendly media.”
Salomon Cohen, president of the confederation, said he was satisfied with the meeting at the presidential palace in Caracas and told journalists that Chavez promised the group that he would study everything they gave him.
“We reviewed the negative consequences that hateful expressions can lead to and how they can affect the security and integrity of the institutions and individuals that make up the community of Venezuelan Jews,” the organization said in a statement following the meeting.
It did not publicly release its examples of alleged anti-Semitism in state media, but has previously raised concerns about cartoons and commentary in government-friendly newspapers and websites.
Chavez’s government recently decided to step up security at synagogues and Jewish community centers this month during Jewish new year celebrations, according to representatives of the local Jewish community.
Cohen thanked the government for boosting security at the temples and centers.
Several incidents have ignited concerns of anti-Semitism in Venezuela.
In January 2009, a Caracas synagogue was ransacked and vandalized, and authorities later arrested 11 people, including eight police officers, suspected of participating. Chavez condemned the attack, and investigators have said they believe the intruders wanted to steal cash they believed was kept inside.
The following month, unidentified attackers lobbed a small explosive at a Jewish community center in the capital, damaging its doors but not hurting anyone.
The association’s communique said the Jewish delegation urged Chavez to intervene to “put a stop to these anti-Jewish expressions” and asked the president to re-establish diplomatic ties between Venezuela and Israel.
Chavez — a close ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — has been strongly critical of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians. He severed ties with Israel in January 2009 to protest its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told reporters that “all the political issues related to Israel’s government will be examined.”
Chavez did not speak with journalists following Thursday’s meeting, but he called the gathering “extraordinary” in a message posted on his Twitter account, saying he and Jewish leaders wrapped up the meeting “hugging and praying for peace.”
Last week, the self-proclaimed socialist said some of his political opponents have wrongly attempted to portray him as “anti-Jewish,” which he said is false.
Venezuela’s Jewish community numbers nearly 15,000.
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