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Jewish Lineage to Lead Venezuela?

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons; Apr 17, 2012 at 06:44:52 AM

When Venezuelans head to the polls for a presidential election this October, a new rising star will be opposing Hugo Chavez, the socialist firebrand who has held power for the past 13 years.

The opponent is 39-year-old Henrique Capriles Radonski, whose Jewish descent has become a hallmark of his political career. His maternal grandparents were Jewish refugees from Russia and Poland who fled during World War II, arriving in Venezuela with nothing but “a suitcase full of clothes.” His grandmother's parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto and murdered by the Nazis in Treblinka.

Though Capriles describes himself as a "fervent Catholic," he is proud of his Jewish ancestry and doesn’t shy away from it. “Because of my mother and grandmother, for Jews I’m Jewish…” he said. Indeed, the Venezuelan media won’t let Capriles forget those roots: A popular magazine recently depicted a Star of David superimposed on his photo.

Additionally, Capriles’ enemies have used anti-Semitic rhetoric against him and accused him of being part of a Jewish conspiracy. In 2009 pro-Chavez activists ransacked his office, spraying swastikas on the wall and (ironically) calling him a “Nazi.”

Anti-Israel fervor has risen sharply during the Chavez presidency. In December 2007, after Chavez pushed through a constitutional referendum to abolish term limits, masked and armed police raided the Jewish Center in Caracas. A year later, a dozen assailants broke into the Grand Synagogue of Caracas, where they bound and gagged security guards, tore open the Holy Ark, scattered its contents irreverently across the floor, destroyed administrative files, and spray-painted the walls with horned devils and “Death Now.”

Chavez himself has accused Israel of committing "genocide" and a "new Holocaust" against the Palestinians. He claimed that "Israeli Mossad terrorists" have tried to kill him, and in 2009 broke all diplomatic ties with Israel.

In recent years, life has been become increasingly difficult for the Jewish community of Venezuela. Many Jews have emigrated due to a rise in violent crime, an anti-Israel atmosphere, and economic hardship. (Chavez has nationalized the cement, steel, banking and lucrative oil industries, stripping many upper-class Jews of their wealth.) The Jewish population of Venezuela, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, has dropped to less than 10,000.

In the meantime, Chavez has become chummy with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, commiserating about having atomic bombs at their disposal. Chavez hosted Ahmadinejad (as well as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad) on a recent trip to Venezuela and has declared an "axis of unity" against the United States.

Come October, world attention will be focused on Venezuela, with the hope that Capriles can defeat Chavez and usher in a new era of moderation and normalcy.

April 17, 2012

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