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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Venezuela on watch list for threatening religious freedom

On Friday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom put Venezuela on a watch list for threatening Jews (mostly) and Catholics.
In a report to be released today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom puts Venezuela on a watch list of countries where religious freedom is threatened. "Anti-Semitic statements by government officials and state media," it says, "have created a hostile environment whereby some Venezuelan citizens have harassed and threatened rabbis, vandalized Jewish businesses with anti-Semitic slogans, and called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses in Venezuela." In a report on global anti-Semitism last year, the State Department listed Venezuela as a state sponsor of anti-Semitism.

Venezuelan Catholics are also "at risk," the Commission on International Religious Freedom notes, and there have been "repeated attacks" on Catholic leaders and Catholic institutions. In January, La Piedrita, a pro-Chavez group, threw tear-gas cannisters into the house of the papal nuncio. Last year pro-Chavez thugs occupied the residence of the archbishop of Caracas and held a press conference at which they denounced Catholic leaders. There have been no arrests in either incident.

Last week Rabbi Herzfeld and others asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to hold a hearing on anti-Semitism in Venezuela. A brief filed with the commission documents the "escalating violence and hostility" against Jews, which it says is "designed to isolate, terrify and ostracize that community." The commission will make a decision on the request in September, a spokeswoman says.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Bremer, the chief rabbi of Venezuela, asks that the world pay attention to the plight of Jews in his country. "We don't know what the future holds for us," he says. But he believes Mr. Chavez pays attention to world opinion. "I hope we will hear from the world community if there is future deterioration."

Rabbi Herzfeld is blunter: "I think we're in the early stages of something catastrophic."
Several weeks ago, I had a taxi driver who told me that his son-in-law was a rabbi in Caracas. The family had traveled to Venezuela as emissaries to the Jewish community for two years, and had been there for nine years. The driver told me that they had brought his daughter and grandchildren home to Israel a few months ago and the rabbi has given notice that he is leaving at the end of the year and returning to Israel. The family no longer feels secure there.

What's surprising is that thus far, we have not seen a large influx of immigrants to Israel from Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal notes that many Venezuelan Jews have fled to Miami and Madrid. I understand Miami because it has both a large Jewish community and a large Spanish-speaking population.

But I don't understand why they would go to Madrid. Mrs. Carl and I spent a week in Spain on vacation in 2001 during which we were mostly based out of Madrid (how we ended up choosing to go there for vacation is a long story). The Jewish community is tiny and there are almost no Jewish communal institutions of which to speak. We spent the Sabbath in Madrid (the Lubavitch emissary there was quite hospitable), but we found out afterward that most Orthodox Jewish tourists to the country go to Gibraltar for the Sabbath, where there is a larger and more vibrant Jewish community. As I understand it, most of the Jews who become religious in Spain choose to leave.

And given the current political environment in Spain, I'm not sure people leaving Venezuela gain much by going there.


At 5:50 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Jews will only move to Israel when the situation in the West gets so intolerable they have nowhere else to seek refuge. The Diaspora is eventually come to an end. As it is, the majority of the world's Jews will soon live in Israel and eventually virtually all Jews will live there. The Ingathering spoken of by the Prophets will be fulfilled. What is happening and Venezuela and around the world should be seen not as a threat but as an opportunity for the Jewish people to build a secure existence in their ancient homeland.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger YMedad said...

Just to correct a typo - not yours - in that story: the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Caracas is Pynchas Natan David Brener. He was my Rabbi from 1954 to 1967 when he left for Venezuela. I am in constant e-mail contact.


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