Saturday, January 10, 2009

Venezuela condemned by Simon Wiesenthal Center

This is not the sort of headline which will please Hugo Chavez. Less than 2 hours ago, a communique was released from the Center to the governments of both Argentina and Brazil from Buenos Aires, advising them to denounce the Bolivarian President for having breached the terms of the 2008 Declaration Against Anti-Semitism.

What is the Declaration? Here is a press release from December 18, 2008 which explains it:

"World Jewish Congress Welcomes Clear Commitment by Latin American Leaders;
Presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela Sign Joint Declaration Against
Anti-Semitism, Intolerance and Racism BUENOS AIRES, Argentina and NEW YORK, Dec.
18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The presidents of the World Jewish Congress (WJC),
Ronald S. Lauder, and the Latin American Jewish Congress (LAJC), Jack Terpins,
have both welcomed the signing of a joint declaration by the presidents of
Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela this week at a summit in Costa Sauipe (Brazil).

In it, Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva and Hugo Chavez Frias unequivocally condemn "discrimination and religious
intolerance, in particular, anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism..." The three
leaders also "reaffirm the fundamental importance of the total fulfillment of
the obligations derived from the International Convention on the elimination of
all the forms of racial discrimination" and "renew their commitment to continue
working at national, regional and international level to fortify the mechanisms
of promotion and protection of the human rights, in order to assure their total
respect irrespective of race, color, sex, religion, or political opinions..."
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder called the signing of the declaration "an
important and very welcome step." He instigated this initiative when he met with
President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on 13 August 2008, together with LAJC President
Jack Terpins and Abraham Levy Benshimol, the head of the Venezuelan Jewish

Lauder added that by supporting a clear condemnation of
anti-Semitism, President Chavez had fulfilled the pledge given to WJC and LAJC
leaders made at that meeting. "We appreciate this very much," the WJC president
said. The head of the Latin American Jewish Congress, Jack Terpins, also praised
the three presidents for this initiative and said: "We sincerely hope that other
Latin American leaders will publicly endorse the declaration. That way, Latin
America could set a positive example to other countries in the world." The World
Jewish Congress is the international organization representing Jewish
communities in over 80 countries around the world. The WJC serves as the
diplomatic arm of the Jewish people to governments and international
organizations. The Latin American Jewish Congress is the WJC's regional
affiliate and federates the Jewish communities in Central and South America"

It appears that Mr. Chavez did not wait very long to do an about face. And it unfortunately demonstrates that such declarations and agreements do not really reflect the "facts on the ground". It is not yet understood why the Wiesenthal Center waited until the Ambassador left this morning to issue this release.

The Wiesenthal Center indicated that Chavez is in violation of the agreement which calls for "Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela to condemn racism, religious intolerance, racial discrimination and related intolerance".

It may also be that the Wiesenthal Center is taking prophylactic measures against what others have stated may be violations against Venezuela's current Jewish population. It is unfortunate, however, that both Brazil and Argentina have had their share of anti-Semitic incidents, despite having sizable Jewish communities.

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