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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Being a Jew in Venezuela

For those who believe Hugo Chavez was anything other than an anti-Semitic thug, or even that he 'wasn't so bad,' please consider this account by Ayelet Bar Naim who lived in Venezuela and was not sorry to see Chavez go.

Chávez's many anti-Jewish statements in the media, like calling Jews pigs, denying the Holocaust and accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians, contributed to an atmosphere of anti-Semitism that grew worse year by year. Suddenly it became frightening to walk down the street after dark, for fear of being harassed. Our synagogues and Jewish community buildings were spray-painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans and there was a feeling that Chávez was egging on the populace and speaking the "people's language" against the Jews.

He was always quick to say that Venezuela's large businesses are controlled by Jews "stealing the nation's money," and we felt the results directly in our bottom lines. Everyone in the Jewish community felt their financial situation decline over time. I particularly remember the closing of a large Jewish-owned shopping mall in Caracas. Chávez decided to nationalize the property for the benefit of the state. Because many of the mall's shop owners were Jewish, we felt that the motive was anti-Semitism, pure and simple.

The Jewish community did not merely suffer from economic harassment. Government operatives would frequently follow children from rich Jewish families in order to kidnap them and demand ransom. In other instances, after Chávez had gained control of the police and the army, the defense forces would occasionally place a closure on the Jewish community schools, with the children inside and their parents unable to gain access to them. The pretext was that the Jews had hidden weapons inside and that searches had to be conducted to confiscate them.

The harassment, restrictions and overall atmosphere made my life as a Jew in Venezuela unbearable. But I hoped that the nation would have its say and replace Chávez with another leader. What finally broke my resolve and "persuaded" me to leave everything behind and accede to my husband's urgent pleas to leave was a law passed by Chávez concerning children. This law stipulated that children up to the age of 3 belong to their parents, afterward until the age of 10 they move to a school that is under control of the government, and from 10 until age 18 they study in a military boarding school. From that moment I understood that my future and the future of my children lies elsewhere. Almost all of our family agreed to come to Israel with us, and the rest fled to the United States, Spain, Peru and other countries.
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