In their attacks on Capriles, Chavez and his press lackeys referred to him with an array of derogatory terms – “gringo,” “bourgeois,” “imperialist,” and, above all, “Zionist.” Moreover, there was no doubt that by “Zionist” the regime meant “Jew.” Perhaps the ugliest headline during the election campaign appeared in a muckraking magazine, Kikiriki, which read, “We are [expletive] if the Jews Come to Power.”
Why, then, did anti-Semitism become such a potent force in a country that eschewed it for so long? Some analysts, like Daniel Duquenal, the author of a vibrant dissident blog, regard it as the inevitable outcome of Chavez’s alliance with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah.
Yet there is another factor. The main ideological influence on Chavez was a relatively obscure Argentinian sociologist, Norberto Ceresole. An ardent admirer of Peronism in Argentina, Ceresole was living proof of what happens when the obsessions of the far left overlap with those of the far right.
A Holocaust denier and all-round conspiracy theorist, Ceresole’s theories became the basis for what Venezuelans know as chavismo, the matrix of social institutions and values created by the Chavez regime. The first chapter of a book in which Ceresole extolled the virtues of such a system – a system in which the relationship between the “leader” and the “people” is privileged – was titled “The Jewish Problem.”
As Chavez’s acolytes ready themselves to preserve his system after his death, there are few reasons to believe that antagonism toward Jews will disappear. Nicolas Maduro is an orthodox chavista who, as foreign minister, enthusiastically pushed for even closer relations with Israel’s enemies. Maduro’s main rival, the National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, is viewed as less ideologically motivated but he too is unlikely to mend fences with Israel and the U.S.
Moreover, even after he is buried, Chavez’s figure will loom large in the political life of Venezuela. Should Henrique Capriles challenge Chavez’s successor, it is probable, according to Sammy Eppel, director of the Human Rights Commission of B’nai B’rith Venezuela, that the “shocking anti-Semitic” caricatures used against him last year will emerge again.
As for Chavez himself, Eppel does not hold back.
“Chavez will probably be remembered as the one who made Venezuelan Jews feel that for the first time they were not welcome in their own country, a chilling reminder of past tragedies,” he told me in an e-mail.
For the Venezuelan people, facing economic chaos and political meltdown, the tragedy continues.