Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Venezuelan Jewish leader to address London conference


On the eve of a conference on anti-Semitism on Monday, one man has
arrived in London with a simple plea for the government in his country
to stop its state-sanctioned and media-led campaign of anti-Semitism.
That man is Sammy Eppel from Venezuela, a Jewish community leader,
director of the human rights commission of B'nai B'rith and columnist
for Caracas's main newspaper El Universal. He has come to tell his
story of the plight of the Jewish community in his country and the
acute rise in anti-Semitism there, which he said was led by the state,
from the president through to the government.
The act that began this wave of anti-Semitism, he told The Jerusalem
Post, was a raid on a Jewish school in Caracas in 2004. The police had
been looking for weapons and explosives, he said, but pointed out that
the raid tied in with a visit to Iran by Venezuelan president Hugo
"It was, if you like, a gift for Ahmadinejad, to say that 'this is how
I treat my Jews,'" Eppel said.
This was part of the problem also - Venezuela's ties with Iran - which
he said the world would eventually have to take seriously.
Since Operation Cast Lead, things have gotten worse for Venezuelan
Jews. This culminated in an attack on the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in
Caracas on January 30 which caused widespread damage. The perpetrators
left slogans such as "damn the Jews" and "Jews out of here" on the
synagogue walls.

In the subsequent investigation, eight police officers have been
arrested, including a senior female police detective who has been
accused by the El Universal newspaper of leading the attack.
Before this, on January 20, the government sponsored news portal,
Aporrea, published a "Plan of Action‚" which among other things called
for "confiscation of properties of those Jews who support the Zionist
atrocities of the Nazi-State of Israel and [the] donation [of] this
property to the Palestinian victims of today's Holocaust."
It also called to publicly denounce by name the members of "powerful
Jewish groups" in Venezuela, as well as the names of their companies
and businesses in order to boycott them.
"[The plan] was a call to action, people were urged to confront Jews
in the streets, they were talking about closing Jewish schools,
confiscating Jewish property," Eppel said.
"It's being done in government and the media and this should be
troubling not just us but [the] whole world," he said.
He described the country as being like a laboratory in which the
government was trying to manufacture anti-Semitism where it had never
existed before.
"It is like an evil experiment to try and convince the population,
that has never been anti-Semitic, and try to introduce anti-Semitism
into society," he said.
"This is the time to stop because it's spreading hate, discrimination
and is a flagrant violation of human rights and it could spread and be
very dangerous," he warned.
Eppel was quick to emphasize that the people in Venezuela were not
"Venezuela is a country that has no anti-Semitism in the population,"
he said. "The people are not anti-Semitic."
Venezuela's Jewish community has halved in the last 10 years,
numbering today around 14-15,000, many halving left for Israel, other
South American countries and the US. He said he hoped that Jews would
stay in Venezuela.
"We don't want to leave, we are fully integrated in every walk of life
in Venezuela," he said.
He insists that anti-Semitism does not exist on the street.
"You have cases of anti-Semitism or hate crimes in Britain. You don't
have it in Venezuela. People would not attack a Jew on the street for
wearing a kippa, it is all state sanctioned."
Eppel will be addressing the London Conference on anti-Semitism on Tuesday.
"I have come to present the reality - everything I present comes from
open sources, I don't speculate, it's all documented and in the public
domain. I'm not taking anything out of context nor inventing anything
or presenting a theory," he said.
After the Synagogue attack, Eppel said that the media, 80 percent of
which is controlled by the government, had blamed the Mossad and the
CIA. The Jewish community had also been implicated, but he has no
doubt who was behind it.
"When they give you a standard response like that, it puts a warning
light and you immediately think it's the government because why are
they looking for excuses if no one has accused them?" he said.
I ask him what the community is doing in response.
"We have at least 61 times denounced this to the authorities in last
three years, including last November when we went to the Attorney
General and demanded that action be taken because we were afraid that
the offensive was so strong that the next stage would be a violent
act. Nothing has happened," he said.


No comments: