Saturday, January 31, 2009

Venezuelian Antisemitism Jacks It Up a Notch

Venezuelan society seems to have crossed the line from Anti-Zionism to Anti-Semitism. And it appears to be state sanctioned.

According to AP:
The vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue late Friday only underscores the feeling of growing anti-Semitic sentiment in the South American nation, Jewish community members said over the weekend.

A group of people - reports run as high as 15 - broke into Caracas's Sephardic synagogue late on Friday, held the guard at gunpoint, wreaked havoc on the building and damaged the Torah scrolls.

Before leaving at around 3 a.m., the vandals scrawled "Death to the Jews" and "We don't want Jews here" on the synagogue's walls.

The damage was discovered by community members on Saturday morning. The guard was found on the floor, one community leader said. ...

The suggestion of government sanction for the attack was heard many times from Venezuelan Jews over the weekend, though most of them would not speak on the record.

"I do not expect the law to be enforced," [Jewish Community spokesman Paul] Hariton said simply. ...

Chavez called on the Venezuelan Jewish community to "declare itself against this barbarity" - Israel's recent offense against Hamas in Gaza - in a January 6 interview with Venezuela's state-run VTV television network. ...

According to Miami Herald columnist and Latin America expert Andres Oppenheimer, "Chavez-backed regional media carry anti-Semitic - and not just anti-Israel - stories almost daily." For example, he relates, "As I'm writing this [on Thursday], a quick look at the Web site of Telesur, the Venezuela-based regional television network ... shows me a story entitled 'Gaza's Ruins,' which accuses Israel 'and the world's Jews' of failing to denounce alleged atrocities by Israeli troops and 'Jewish planes' in Gaza." ...

"We were afraid something like this would happen. The official press was becoming more and more anti-Israeli and anti-Jews. There are hundreds of anti-Semitic articles, ads and fliers." ...

"You can disagree with Israel. That's fine," said Hariton. "But you can't go to a place where we worship and destroy it. That's clearly anti-Semitism."


Anonymous Shmuel said...

On the one hand, the focusing of anger with Israel on local Jews belies racist motives no less than attacks on and restrictions against local Muslims, for involvement in acts of terrorism committed by fellow Muslims elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, can we really ignore the connection between organised Jewish communities around the world and the Israeli state - a relationship encouraged and flaunted by both sides? Is anti-Semitism (and I mean anti-Semitism, not criticism of Israel or Zionism) completely detached from Jewish actions? Is it a decree from Heaven that "Esau hates Jacob"? Generalisations are always bad, and each individual should be judged on her own merit, but that doesn't mean that we can afford to continue to ignore some very grave issues within our own communities. Recently, I have heard anti-Semitic remarks coming from good people, and that worries me far more than a bunch of skinheads with a spraycan and a website. Can we really say that "our hands have not spilled this blood"?

7:29 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


There are two different sets of questions raised by this incident - and what you report about Italy.

The first, is aimed everyone: is this anti-Semitism, should it be named and should it be opposed. The answer to all three questions - in the case of Venezuela at least - is yes. It sounds like it is that way in Italy too. Victims of racism (and anti-Semitism) have nothing to apologize for. Apologizing only condones the act and encourages more of the same. The victim should not feel guilty, and therefore shy about about crying out against abuse.

This would also be true of Muslims reacting to anti-Muslim sentiment (after all many Western Muslims are sympathetic to terrorists, and some even collect money and recruit for them.) Or anti-black racism in North America ( even though crime in the black community is higher than in other communities.)

Or a slightly different analogy if you like: the rape victim should not apologize to her attacker, even if she was walking in a low cut dress, drunk in a dark alley.

Anti-Semitism is a form of racism. It is sublimated and mis-focused anger. It is an exaggerated group punishment for the real and imagined sins of some.

The second set of questions raised by rising anti-Semitisms is addressed to Jews alone: does the seeming overwhelming Jewish community support for Israel, Israel's claim to speak for all Jews, the Jewish establishment's attempts to make Zionism congruent with, or at least an essential part of, Judaism; do these things promote anti-Semitism. The answer here is also yes.

This raises tactical and strategic questions about Jewish behavior and politics. Just as women's groups may legitimately advise women not to go walking in dark alleys alone, Jews should think deeply about the argument that Israel protects Jews. And even if this is generally true, do all its policies protect Jews. The answer to that last question is clearly no - IMO.

There is plenty of irony in these situations. Israel - the self declared protector of Jews - is a primary motivator of today's anti-Semitism. And anti-Semitism only increases Jewish chauvinism and self absorption. It drives Jews to feel a need for Israel, and drives some Jews to emigrate there.

Where do the Venezuelan anti-Semites think the Jews will go when they write "Jews go home!" on a synagogue wall? They may as well be working for the Jewish Agency's Immigration Department. Several thousand bitter Jewish refugees from Venezuela moving to Israel certainly won't help the Palestinians.

Yes - this phenomenon of anti-Zionism crossing over to anti-Semitism is very worrying. While Jews on the right might secretly be happy, as it re-enforces their world view that the whole world is against us - so fuck them; Jews on the left need to fight this - first of all be naming it and embarrassing its proponents among "good people."

8:43 am  
Anonymous Shmuel said...

I agree with your not "blaming the victim" analysis, and the rape analogy did come to my mind (I used to volunteer at the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Centre), although there is nothing inherently wrong with so called "provocative behaviour" by women, while the Jewish behaviour I was referring to is morally wrong in and of itself. The questions we must ask within our communities are thus not just about being "smart" and not "provoking" anti-Semites, but about whether some of the criticism - even when levelled in unpardonably racist terms - might not be justified. Nevertheless, it is absolutely correct to distinguish between racism and any actions on the part of its targets that may be associated with it.

Regarding anti-Semitic statements by good people (the kind without quotation marks), I have found engagement and explaining far more effective than naming and shaming.

10:31 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


We have argued ourselves into agreement.

I would just add that moral argument and the "smart" argument against Israel's actions are not totally divorced. One of the hawks' arguments in favour of their aggressive policies, is that they are needed to protect Jews? Well, what if they actually harm Jews?

Re your comment that we must ask ourselves if some of the comments of anti-Semites might be true - yes we should. Even racists are right sometime. Eyzeh Hu Chacham and all that. As my mother - a holocaust survivor - says (jokingly I think), anti-Semitism is merely "hating Jews more then necessary."

11:26 pm  

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