Anti-Semitic graffiti, a swastika and the number six-million with a question mark, was found on a wall of the AIV del Este Sephardic synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela.

“We are deeply troubled that a synagogue in Venezuela was again the target of an anti-Semitic incident,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement. “It is particularly shocking that the graffiti trivializes the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others who perished during the Holocaust. This heinous act – deeply offensive to Jews and other survivors – sends a chilling message to the Jewish community in Venezuela and is an affront to all in Venezuela who strive to live in harmony.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed that anti-Semitic incidents occur far too often in Venezuela. Despicable acts of intimidation, like this one targeting Jews, contribute to an atmosphere of insecurity. We respectfully urge the Venezuelan government to take decisive action against such manifestations of anti-Jewish hate and to make it clear to the Jewish community – and all Venezuelans – that anti-Semitism or any form of hate, bias and harassment towards minorities have no place in Venezuelan society and will not be tolerated”

In response to the attack, B’nai B’rith International executive vice president Daniel Mariaschin said, “The government has shown no willingness [and] no commitment to really addressing this kind of problem.” Both the government of the late Hugo Chavez, who ruled the country from 1998 until his death in 2013, and that of his successor Nicolas Maduro have either looked the other way or have allowed “anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts to occur and not to be addressed properly,” Mariaschin said.

At the time of Chavez’ death last March, Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman said that the Venezuelan Jewish community had been a target of anti-Semitism that was “permitted and even encouraged by the regime and its supporters. Intimidation of the Jewish community was commonplace and Jewish religious and communal institutions were desecrated, vandalized and even investigated by the police without justification. Chavez would use the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to accuse the Venezuelan Jewish community of disloyalty to Venezuela if they did not denounce Israel.”

A recent ADL poll in 100 countries found that 30% of Venezuelans surveyed harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. The League’s poll also found that 39% of the respondents have never heard of the Holocaust, and of those who have, 30% believe the numbers have been exaggerated.

Lidia Lerner of Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Kantor Database on Anti-Semitism and Racism, said that unfortunately, anti-Semitism in Venezuela in the post- Chavez era still “comes from the top, from government circles.”

“Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro and their government, while espousing anti-Zionist rhetoric, denied charges of anti-Semitism, and attempted to separate between their policy towards Israel and the Middle East and their attitude toward Venezuelan Jews,” she said. “However, recent years have seen a rise in anti-Semitic manifestations, including vandalism, media attacks, caricatures, and physical attacks on Jewish institutions.”

The Confederacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV), which represents the country’s 16,000 Jews, recorded a total of 4,033 anti-Semitic incidents in 2013.
In March,2009, Venezuelan prosecutors filed charges against eight police officers and three other people, accusing them of involvement in a January attack on Caracas’ largest synagogue. Among the suspects was a police officer who worked as a bodyguard for a rabbi. Another suspect was one of two security guards on duty during the attack, was suspected of aiding intruders by deactivating an alarm and an electric fence surrounding the building. The attack took place shortly after President Hugo Chavez severed diplomatic ties with Israel in protest of its military offensive on the Gaza Strip. Chavez, who condemned the synagogue attack, has repeatedly said he simply opposes Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and holds nothing against the Jewish people.

In a report on police corruption directed at the Jewish community in May 2010, Nora Zimmett of The Huffington Post reported the following:

“I spoke to an administrative head of one of the large synagogues in Caracas who told me that she was just fed up with the police who are stationed outside the synagogue to protect it – the government’s concession to those who say their anti-Israel rhetoric has crossed the line to an anti-Semitic policy When I asked her why she was so frustrated, she explained that those same police were routinely stopping cars driving past the synagogue and requesting a “tax” to continue down the road. If they refused, the police would brandish their weapons. In one case, the woman told me, an officer stopped a man driving, demanded payment and, when the man explained he had no money on him, tied him to a nearby pole. The officer then called the driver’s father and demanded the money. Another source confirmed the account. I have not included their names in order to protect their anonymity.”