Thursday, 9 April 2009

Anti-Semitism in Venezuela? Not so much. (But who will tell Irwin Cotler?)

In January of this year, the anti-Chavez crowd was breathlessly claiming that the vandalisation of a synagogue in Caracas was evidence of a wave of anti-Semitism in Venezuela and despite the lack of any evidence linking the crime to the government, it was widely implied that the attack was a result of official anti-Semitism in the upper ranks of Venezuela's socialist government.

While the attempt to link the government to the attack was facile and opportunistic the simple fact that a synagogue was firebombed was a legitimately worrisome development.

The attack has reached mythic proportions here. Despite the fact that the burglars were busted in February after one of them confessed, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler rose in the House of Commons on April Fool's Day to table a petition decrying the "the escalating state-backed anti-Semitism in Venezuela" with what he called the "firebombing" of the synagogue as exhibit number 1. This despite the fact that not only was the synagogue not firebombed but, as you are about to learn, it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, let alone "state-backed anti-Semitism".

The original act received a lot of media attention in North America (and some exaggeration with Irwin Cotler claiming the temple was firebombed). What has received far less notice is the denouement - it seems that the incident was not motivated by anti-Semitism but by greed and a personal dispute.

The robbery was in fact planned by the Rabbi's bodyguard after his employer had denied his request for a loan. The accompanying vandalism was an attempt by the robbers to cover their tracks and misdirect investigators.

Incidentally, as has been pointed out by a correspondent on Norman Finkelstein's blog, Caracas' biggest mosque was robbed last month. Curiously, neither the North American media nor Mr. Cotler have suggested that this act was a result of state-sponsored Islamophobia.
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