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Latin American Jews contend with spike in anti-Semitism

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"There is a new current of anti-Semitism in Latin America, connected to a discourse of anti-Zionism," says Sergio Widder, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Latin America in Buenos Aires.

Onslaught in Venezuela

Nowhere does the Jewish community in Latin America feel more under attack than in Venezuela, as the country's leader, his cabinet, and pro-government media have launched a steady barrage of condemnation toward Israel. That rhetoric sometimes seeps over into anti-Semitic behavior, say Jewish leaders.

An article on the pro-government media site Aporrea in January, for example, wrote that society should publicly demand "that any Jew on any street, commercial center, or public square take a position shouting slogans in support of Palestine and against the abortion-like state of Israel." It was later taken off the site.

In late January, the Mariperez synagogue in Caracas was broken into – an act seen by many in the Jewish community as the greatest anti-Semitic attack in Venezuelan history.

Fifteen people, including several policemen, were arrested after they broke into the synagogue, taking off with money and scrawling anti-Jewish graffiti such as "Damn the Jews," "Jews out of here," and "Israel assassins" on the walls.

They also took out the Torah from its storage place and threw sacred cups on the floor. The government claims the incident was a robbery masquerading as an anti-Semitic attack.

Levi Benshimol, a communications consultant and former president of the National College of Journalism in Caracas, says Mr. Chávez has encouraged fundamentalist factions within his movement for "21st-century socialism" by failing to distinguish sufficiently between Israel's policies and the practice of the Jewish faith, despite several statements issued by Chávez's government condemning the desecration.

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