Venezuela Synagogue Desecrated

Vandals defaced the walls of a Venezuela synagogue in what Jewish leaders call the worst attack ever on its community.

Avraham Zuroff,

Synagogue in Caracas
Synagogue in Caracas
Wikimedia Commons

Vandals sprayed anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of a Venezuela synagogue and defaced Torah scrolls on Saturday in what Jewish leaders call the worst attack ever on the Jewish community in Venezuela.

About 15 armed attackers, who overcame two security guards, ravaged a Caracas synagogue. The vandals struck late Friday night and continued their assault until around 3 a.m. Saturday, vandalizing the offices of the Venezuelan Jewish community's central organization, tossing Torah scrolls and other holy books on the floor, and leaving graffiti on the synagogue walls that read, "We don't want Jews here" and "Jews get out." The synagogue attack prevented Sabbath services from taking place.

The act of vandalism occurred amid soured relations between Venezuela and Israel. Venezuela recently expelled Israel’s ambassador from the country in protest of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Israel responded by expelling Venezuela’s ambassador from Israel last week.

Israeli officials have criticized Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez for his support of Iran’s nuclear program, his support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his outspoken condemnation of what he calls Israel's "genocidal policies towards the Palestinians."

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned the attack and assured that it would be investigated. However, he reiterated the government’s opposition to what he called Israel’s “criminal government.” “We respect the Jewish people, but we ask respect for the people of Palestine and their right to life,” Maduro remarked during a ceremony welcoming the two Venezuelan diplomats who were expelled from Israel as a reciprocal measure for Venezuela’s expelling of the Israeli ambassador on January 6th.

Leaders of Venezuela’s 15,000-member Jewish community warned that anti-Israel remarks by Chavez and other government officials, including its state-controlled press, might have sparked the vandalism attack on the synagogue.

"Never in the history of Venezuela's Jewish community have we been the target of such an aggression," Elias Farache, the president of Venezuela's Jewish Association, stated. "The climate is very tense. We feel threatened, intimidated, attacked," he said.

Reacting to the synagogue attack, the American Jewish Committee expressed its deepening concerns for the security and safety of the Jewish community in Venezuela.

"The total disrespect of a Jewish house of worship reflects the escalating climate of hostility towards Jews in Venezuela," said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris. "The wanton desecration of holy books is disheartening and inexcusable."

"There are strong indications that what we are witnessing is a state-sponsored campaign of anti-Semitic persecution, spurred by both Venezuela's alliance with the Iranian regime and the surge of anti-Israel rhetoric during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas," said Harris. "We call on the international community to declare its solidarity with Venezuela's Jewish community and to make clear to President Chavez that further escalation will not be tolerated."

AJC has spoken out with alarm before about the ongoing threats to the Jewish community in Venezuela, and apparent lack of concern by the Chavez government in countering the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents and providing adequate security. In 2004 and again in 2007, Venezuela police raided the Hebraica, the Caracas complex housing the Jewish community center and school.