Despite all his rhetoric, his failed constitutional coup, and his cozying with Iran, there are still people who insist that Hugo Chavez is more of a buffoon than a serious threat to Western interests. They should take a look at this week’s Forward. Life under Chavez has become particularly difficult for the country’s Jews, who have begun fleeing the country in droves. In 2002, Jews were accused of being behind a coup attempt. Last year, Chavez accused Venezuelan Jewish leaders of disloyalty to the country, and began speaking out viciously against Israel, insisting that Mossad agents were trying to topple him. State-run television has been pretty free with anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Israel propaganda. And last month, armed policemen raided the Jewish communal center in Caracas, looking for arms and evidence of subversive activity, which they failed to find. It was the second such raid in four years, and Jewish leaders, who until now have tried their best to maintain smooth relations with Chavez, have finally lashed out. “We’re facing the first anti-Jewish government in our history,” the head of the center told the Forward. Since Chavez’s election in 1998, the Jewish population in Venezuela has dropped from 16,000 to about 12,000, and the emigration continues apace.
It has often been said that the test of a regime’s inner values and long-term intentions is how it treats its Jews. Whereas liberal regimes take pride in allowing a community to live their own lives and have some measure of control over their own communal space, anti-Western revolutionary regimes can’t really handle that sort of thing, and they often find that when support for the regime is flagging, there is no better way to rally it than to play on background anti-Semitism, to insist that the Jew is an enemy in their midst. Okay, so it’s not Germany in 1938. But we should still be pretty alarmed.