In the past few days Venezuelan President Chavez has been accused by many of instigating the attacks on the oldest synagogue in Caracas last Friday, which left damaged Torahs and graffiti on walls with statements such as “Get out, Jews!” While the accusations have focused mostly on Chavez’s statements on the recent events with Gaza and the comparisons he made between Israel’s incursion into Gaza and the Holocaust, I would argue that what was most troubling in the lead-up to the attack on the synagogue was that Chavez placed the weight of defending Israel on Venezuela’s Jews. “I hope that the Jewish community in Venezuela pronounces itself against these barbaric acts. Do it!”, Chavez said.
In a similar way to when Colombian human rights activists are attacked following President Uribe’s statements denouncing them as allies of the FARC, it looks like President Chavez’s statements led some of his followers to attack the synagogue after the Jewish community did not pronounce itself against Israel’s actions. I would assume that neither Chavez nor Uribe expect their statements to lead to violent actions, but they both have fanatical followers who will follow their leaders’ words with violence.
This is why Chavez’s response to the attacks is so worrying. Although the international media has focused on Chavez condemning the attack, they seem to be looking over the conspiracy theory that Chavez developed while condemning the attacks. Chavez speaks of Jews, the oligarchy, and the opposition as if they were one and the same and accuses them of doing this “to themsleves” in order to affect the referendum coming up on February 15. “Who benefits from these acts of violence? It doesn’t benefit the Revolution…. They are trying to disturb the prompt popular victory,” Chavez said. “Who benefits from this? It is them! They do it to themselves!”
Chavez’s conspiracy theory is already reverberating within Venezuelan government web pages and pro-government comment forums. A recent post in a government page titled “Leopoldo Lopez is behind the attacks on the synagogue” accuses the opposition leader of attacking the synagogue and expands the conspiracy theory to include the Caracas police forces. A magazine distributed by the Venezuelan Minister of Culture now has an article titled “Attack the synagogue!” which expands on Chavez’s conspiracy theory and blames Mossad directly for the attacks this weekend in Venezuela as well as the 1994 attack in Argentina on a Jewish community center that left 85 dead. This magazine now routinely refers to the attack as an “auto-ataque.” For many more examples, see here. President Chavez’s most recent statements can only make Venezuela less safe for its Jewish minority.