In 1998, the year Hugo Chavez was elected president, there were 22,000 Jews in Venezuela. Today the Jewish population is estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000.
Those numbers tell a story, and it’s not a happy one. The Jews of Venezuela are fleeing to Miami, Madrid and elsewhere because of the anti-Semitism they face at home. In an interview this week in Washington, D.C., the country’s chief rabbi sounds a warning bell: "There’s anxiety in the Jewish community because of what has happened," says Rabbi Pynchas Bremer, "and of course because of what may happen."
Mr. Chavez’s vitriol about Jews is well documented and of long standing. In recent years he has referred to Venezuelan Jews as "descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ" and "a minority [that] has taken ownership of all the gold of the planet." According to Shmuel Herzfeld, a Washington, D.C., rabbi who visited Venezuela in March: "Chavez is isolating the Jews and turning Venezuelans against the Jewish community. . . . The government is transforming a society that has been welcoming and accepting of Jews" in the past. Rabbi Bremer, who has lived in Venezuela for more than 40 years, says that he had never personally encountered anti-Semitism or heard of anti-Semitic incidents until recently.
This year has seen an intensification of attacks — verbal and physical — on Jews and Jewish institutions in Venezuela.