August 13, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez met with the President of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald Lauder, and the President of the Latin American Jewish Congress, Jack Terpins today. Following the meeting, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro thanked Lauder for coming to Venezuela and said the meeting allows the Chavez government to “deepen the dialogue.”
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez had arranged the meeting at the request of WJC President Lauder, when Chavez was visiting Argentina last week.
Terpins said, “The Jewish community is more at ease now with President Hugo Chávez, who demonstrated that he is a great friend of the Jewish community and who wants to fight anti-Semitism in Latin America.
Also present at the meeting was Argentina’s Ambassador to the United States, Héctor Timerman, who said that President Chavez said during the meeting that he wants to "[join] efforts with President Lula from Brazil and President Cristina Kirchner in order to achieve otal eradication of anti-Semitism in Latin America." "This is a gesture that speaks about the leadership and opinions of President Chávez regarding the need to end all types of discrimination in our region," he added.
Other participants in the meeting was Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez and the President of the Venezuelan Jewish community, Abraham Levi Benshimol.
Foreign Minister Maduro expressed that he hopes that this drawing closer of Venezuela and the WJC “will be maintained.”
Relations between the Chavez government and the Venezuelan Jewish community, which have generally been cordial, were strained when Chavez strongly criticized the state of Israel for its bombing campaign in Lebanon in 2006 and temporarily withdrew Venezuela’s ambassador to Israel.
Venezuela’s close relationship with Iran has also caused unease among Jews in Venezuela and abroad. Venezuela’s close relationships with Iran and with Arab countries, which have been strengthened in recent years, have a long history, though, due to Venezuela being a founding member of OPEC.
More complicated have been relations with representatives of international Jewish groups, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which accused Chavez of anti-Semitism when he gave a Christmas address in 2005. Venezuela’s Jewish community, though, defended Chavez at the time, saying that the Wiesenthal Center had taken Chavez’s comments out of context.
Despite this defense and Chavez’s own denial that he harbors anti-Semitic sentiments, numerous media reports on Venezuela, published in the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and several Jewish publications have continued to portray the Chavez government as being anti-Semitic.