Debate on Chávez and Anti-Semitism Continues

In the interest of furthering an open debate about the current events in Venezuela, COHA is publishing a sampling of incoming letters from its readers on the Chávez administration’s position on Jewish issues and the sensitivity of some of its statements. The COHA staff has received these letters in response to two of its recent articles; “Venezuelan Synagogue Vandalizing Takes New Turn,” and “Venezuela’s New Constitutional Reform 2009.”
-COHA Staff


February 12, 2009

Dear Council on Hemispheric Affairs,

I am writing to express my concern about the illegitimate anti-Semitism charges against the Venezuelan government. I expect better from COHA, a supposedly progressive and prestigious Latin America foreign policy organization.

President Hugo Chavez, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, and other government officials promptly and forcefully condemned the vandalism of the synagogue and specifically condemned anti-Semitism. President Chavez has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism and met with Venezuelan Jewish leaders in the past.

Law enforcement officials aggressively investigated the crime and have arrested and charged 15 people to date including several municipal policemen and the synagogue’s own security guard.

Venezuela expelled the Israeli Ambassador during Israel’s horrific ground and air assault against the civilian population of Palestinians living in Gaza. Gaza is the most densely populated area on earth and its people are held in a virtual open-air prison by Israel’s control of their borders and blockade of food and medical supplies. The VSN would have liked to see countries in addition to Bolivia and Mauritania join Venezuela in its principled condemnation of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is simply not legitimate to equate criticism of the government of Israel with anti-Semitism. I am very disappointed in your organization.

Vera Leone


February 12, 2009

Dear COHA Directors and Editors,

It was very disappointing and extremely frustrating to see the use of COHA’s publication space for an article that is based on lies and misdirection.

People who know how things work in Venezuela knew from DAY ONE that the attack on the synagogue was a black op by the so-called opposition. Street vandals are not going to be able to get into this facility – and any cursory check of this situation would have made that perfectly clear to you. It had all of the classic signs of being a U.S.-backed operation, as have the many “tear gas” attacks on “Opposition” leaders. You fell for it and you are supposed to be one of the sophisticated voices on matters related to Latin America. Amazing.

You should not only retract the article but you should apologize to the Venezuelan People, the Venezuelan Government, and your readers.

Of course, much of the damage is done – and the lies have been added to the pile that has been building up as the referendum approaches. Nevertheless, the truth will set you free. So, please do the right thing.

Gunnar Gundersen
Salem, Oregon


February 12, 2009

I think you somewhat over played the attack on the synagogue. After all, there was a recent attack on synagogues in Chicago and New York City. These are regret-able as are attacks on mosques and churches. However, I do not believe that in any of these cases the attacks are with even tacit government approval.

I belong to a number of Jewish peace groups. They are not in any way approving the violence of the IDF. There are any number of Jews who see the behavior of the Israeli Government of the Palestinians in a similar light to the shoah.

Rightly you point out how Chavez’ style is counter productive. Although given his background, it is not surprising.

Please keep up your good work.

Dr. Art Donart


February 12, 2009

COHA wrote that the Chavez denunciations of Israeli aggression in Gaza “revealingly transcends the intensity of almost every Arabic nation..”

True, but mainly because key Arab states (Eygpt, Soudi Arabia, Jordan) are corrupt pro-US dictatorships. It is remarkable that COHA could miss this fact even if the the Middle East is not its area of focus.

COHA makes the completely unsubstanciated claim that most people who criticize “zionism” don’t know what it is and insinuate that criticism of zionism is linked to anti-Semitism (“smacks of anti-semitism” in 9 out of 10 cases” COHA said). No reference was provided of course for this bold and vague claim.

There were benign forms of zionism as Noam Chomsky has sometimes pointed out. However, the variant which become dominant since at least 1948 is rooted in murderous racism towards Palestinans and massive (and ongoing) ethnic cleansing.

COHA says that Chávez once said, “Some minorities, descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ…took all the world’s wealth for themselves.”

The full quote was the following

“The world has an offer for everybody but it turned out that a few minorities–the descendants of those who crucified Christ, the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar from here and also those who in a certain way crucified him in Santa Marta, there in Colombia–they took possession of the riches of the world, a minority took possession of the planet’s gold, the silver, the minerals, the water, the good lands, the oil, and they have concentrated all the riches in the hands of a few; less than 10 percent of the world population owns more than half of the riches of the world.”

Clearly Chavez was not singling out any ethnic group. FAIR exposed this distortion in 2006. It is surprising that COHA appears unaware of it.

Most sadly, COHA reveals itself completely unaware of the facts about what Israel did in Gaza when it wrote that

“But the Gaza matter was something else. “Proportional” response in military matters is a legal matter even if it is a fairly tame argument to fall back on when Hamas, at its discretion, daily launches missiles at civilian populations in Israel. ”

Richard Falk, the Jewish American who is Special Raportteur to the Occupied terrirtoires, stated that

1) Israel broke a truce with Hamas on November 4, 2007.
2) Until the truce was broken, rocket fire into Israel was negigable and casued no casualties.
3) It was far from clear that Hamas was responsoible for the small number of rockets fired into Israel during the truce.
4) Israel ignored calls by Hamas to extend the truce
5) Israel did not abide by terms of the truce that called for an end to a devastatinf seige on Gaza. The economic blockagde has reduced th e80% of th epeople of Gaza to live of less than $2 per day

If COHA has more relaible sources of information than Richard Falk it certainly has not provided them. Given the facts, the stance Chavez has taken against Israeli aggression does not look at all rash or ill advised – never mind anti-Semitic. On the contray it is a principled stance that could revive the reputation and fortunes of the secular Left in the Arab world in the long run. Regardless, it is a stance to be applauded.

Joe Emersberger


February 13, 2009

Recently, on Feb. 11, you released an article claiming Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was guilty of anti-Semitism because of an incident of vandalism at a Caracas synagogue, and some statements that President Chavez made regarding the nature of Israel’s military attacks on the people of Gaza.

First off, as I am sure you are aware, there were lots of incidents of vandalism at Jewish sites all over the world, especially in Europe, after Israel began another of its massacres of Palestinians, this time in Gaza. As you can expect, people all over the world have drawn their own conclusions about the justness of Israel’s violent expulsion and sixty (60) years of repression of the Palestinians in their own lands that now make up Israel and the occupied territories. So, it is illogical to attribute to comments made by Chavez, or Venezuela’s expelling of its Israeli ambassador, as being the cause of the vandalism that occurred in Caracas. Bolivia did the latter and no incidents took place there. Plus, no statement made by Chavez called specifically for such an action in Venezuela. Thus, the acts on the surface look like independent acts with no causal relation to anything President Chavez did or said.

Nor do I think it is it fair to say that all these incidents are anti-Semitic if those who acted out did so to voice their anger and outrage over the horrible destruction and deaths caused by Israel, and to show their support for the plight of the Palestinians. You just can not just presume such prejudice, especially when both parties to the conflict are Semitic. Certainly, it appears that given the slaughter of Palestinians that the Zionist cause inflicted and continues to inflict on the Palestinians that people worldwide will react and show their anger and disgust with any new occurrence. Whereas, a true anti-Semite does not need such an incidence to show where he or she stands with regards to Semites (Jews if you wish).

Moreover, an anti-Semite would not try to hold those responsible for acts of vandalism criminally responsible. Law enforcement officials in Venezuela have aggressively investigated the crime and have arrested and charged 15 people to date including several municipal policemen and the synagogue’s own security guard. Therefore, it is simply not legitimate to equate Venezuela’s criticism of the government of Israel for its Gaza invasion with anti-Semitisim.

And you must acknowledge that President Hugo Chavez, and his Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, and other government officials promptly and forcefully condemned the vandalism of the synagogue and specifically condemned anti-Semitism. President Chavez has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism and met with Venezuelan Jewish leaders in the past. Again, these are not the actions of an anti-Semite.

Apparently, you disagree with his stand with regards to Israel’s assault on practically harmless Gaza. However, his position is shared by many, if not most of the world. Just because you disagree with him on the issure does not make him anti-Semitic. Maybe, the Palestinian cause is a just one after all, and the world is beginning to realize that. If so, you can not deflect such criticism by calling those critics anti-Semites. I am sorry, but it just doesn’t fly.

It appears to me that you owe President Chavez an apology for your rather quick judgement of him as an anti-Semite on such flimsy grounds. He is not an anti-Semite nor does he foment such activity. He is outspoken, but his people love him for that.

Thank you,
Vincent Ruiz


February 13, 2009

Your response to the Wilpert complaint, at least parts of which are valid, is embarrasing. I was embarrassed for you. There is no need for self flagellation – criticism of a public political figure is part of an open society and no one is or should be exempt. The Chavez regime -and its notoriously vague claims of a socialism for the XXI century-is open to much valid criticism and it is a refreshing change to see COHA air some of it.

Daniel Levine