Foreign Policy Blogs

Chavez and the Jews

At a party last year, an acquaintance asked me why Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, was so anti-Israel. How were Israel and Jews a threat to him? Since Chavez has been president, anti-Semitic behavior in Venezuela (not known as a hotbed of anti-Semitism) has increased noticeably with attacks on synagogues and against the tiny Venezuelan Jewish community.

I said then and I still believe that a country does not experience such changes randomly: they are countenanced by behavior implicit or explicit from the top. The only logical reason for going after the Venezuelan Jewish community was that Chavez thought it would ingratiate him with his Arab oil colleagues. He may want Venezuela (him) to lead OPEC (which Venezuela last led in 2003) or just fit in with the gang.

Last week, Chavez welcomed Iranian President Ahmadinejad to town and, to make him feel at home, launched into some anti-Israel rhetoric, with the added benefit of taking an indirect swipe at the US.

The visit must have been a welcome distraction. Sure, Chavez likes the attention of created controversy.  I am just as sure he would not mind trying to get attention at home away from the recession and inflation, which, in Venezuela, is the highest in the region. The contraction of the oil market has hurt Chavez and his budget for social services.

A more modest goal for Chavez as an oil leader would be to assume the position of Latin America’s oil leader, but that role seems to have gone now to Brazil’s President Lula da Silva. When Ahmadinejad visited Brazil, Lula refrained from anti-Semitism while still making nice with his oil colleague

Iran itself, because of its tainted election, its repression, its support of terrorism, its economic weakness at home, was in Latin America also looking for friends. But alliances between weak countries that seek to become powerful by association do not often work.



Jodi Liss

Jodi Liss is a former consultant for the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, and UNICEF. She has worked on the “Lessons From Rwanda” outreach project and the Post-Conflict Economic Recovery report. She has written about natural resources for the World Policy Institute's blog and for Punch (Nigeria).