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What They are Saying, Feb. 7, 2008
Aid Venezuela Jews by Aiding the Poor
American Jewish Committee staffer Dina Siegel Vann writes in the Miami Herald (www.miamiherald.com) on Jan. 14 about the right way to help Venezuelan Jews:
"The dangerous antics of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, his alliance with Iran, his open hostility toward the United States and a number of anti-Semitic incidents have generated widespread concern about the fate of the small Jewish community in this oil-rich South American nation.
"How best can we in the American Jewish community be helpful, while ever mindful of the local community's interests? The situation is extremely delicate. American Jews cannot presume to know better than the Venezuelan Jewish leadership what they face on a daily basis and how to respond.
"Shouting and screaming from the safety of the United States may feel good to some, but the goal of the exercise is not to satisfy their needs; rather, it's to ensure the safety and well-being of thousands of Venezuelan Jews who have repeatedly said that such behavior is likely to exacerbate the situation.
"The best assistance American Jews can provide, apart from helping sustain Jewish life in Venezuela and across Latin America, is to support efforts to strengthen the democratic and pluralistic characteristics of these societies.
"Chávez's ascension to power came amid pervasive socio-economic gaps and corruption. Many in decision-making positions in the U.S. government have rightly, if belatedly, concluded that public confrontation with his regime should be avoided when possible. Thus, without changing its fundamental attitude, Washington has recently used quieter diplomacy and even partial engagement with a major supplier of oil to the United States -- another reminder of the consequences of our nation's dependence on oil from hostile sources.
"So, while ... urging the Venezuelan administration to respect the constitutional rights of the Jewish community, we should continue to convey our concerns to the State Department, Congress and the Organization of American States, as well as those friendly governments in the region who view with concern any assaults against Jews. Chávez may or may not care what the United States and American Jewish groups think, but he can't easily dismiss the concerns of key countries in his region and others important to his regime.
"Also, Americans should focus on pressing the U.S. government to support stepped-up efforts to reduce endemic poverty and inequality in our hemisphere. That is a longer-term antidote to Chávez and populist leaders like him who feed off the wide gaps in Latin American societies."
Scream Out Loud to Help the Jews!
Columnist Mona Charen writes in the National Review (www.nationalreview.com) on Jan. 25 about the dilemma for Jews in Hugo Chávez's Venezuela:
"On Dec. 1, 2007, two-dozen heavily armed police staged a raid on a Jewish community center in Caracas, where hundreds were celebrating a wedding. The police, the Venezuelan equivalent of the FBI, claimed to be seeking weapons and evidence of 'subversive activity.'
"They found no weapons. As for subversive activity, well, in a proto-authoritarian state like Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, subversion is a very elastic concept. The mildest skepticism about Chávez's regime might easily qualify.
"This bit of harassment theater was only the latest in a series of worrying moves by the Chávez government against its Jewish citizens. The same community center had been raided in 2004, in the morning hours when children were being bussed to school. The regime -- which boasts of cozy friendships with [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's Iran and [Fidel] Castro's Cuba -- has also engaged in steady anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda. A little more than a year ago, Chávez declared in a Christmas Eve speech that 'the world has wealth for all, but some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, have taken over all the wealth of the world.'
"During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, Chávez became increasingly shrill, accusing the Israelis of behaving like Nazis. Hamas and Hezbollah are now operating freely in Venezuela. Publications by the government's ministry of culture have featured titles like 'The Jewish Question' with cover art showing a Star of David superimposed over a swastika. Jews were accused of complicity in the murder of a prosecutor. An article in a leading newspaper, El Diario de Caracas, asked whether it would become necessary 'to expel [the Jews] from the country.'
"You might expect an outcry from other Jews around the world -- and there has been some. But within the U.S., many of the leaders of large Jewish organizations are seeking to stifle those, like Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, who is urging members of Congress to hold hearings on the matter. Weiss reports that Rep. Elliott Engel (D-N.Y.) was willing to call a hearing but was dissuaded by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"Well, diplomacy has its place, but this isn't it. When the Soviet Union was denying exit visas to Jews wishing to emigrate and persecuting those who sought to leave, only the loud and persistent protests of Jews in the United States and elsewhere (combined with congressional action) caused the Soviets to relent. The Venezuelan Jews themselves have asked for such international pressure. They believe Chávez is very sensitive about international opinion. It would be naive to place faith in diplomacy alone."
Small Steps Make Sense in the Mideast
Columnist Paul Greenberg writes in The Washington Times (www.washingtontimes.com) on Jan. 24 about the futility of presidential peace promises:
" It has become tradition that no American president may leave office without trying to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, always to great fanfare, but to less and less prospects of success. The rhetoric tends to be produced in inverse ratio to anything actually achieved.
"It just may be too much to expect that -- in the last, declining year of an American presidency, and in the midst of the election-year hurly-burly -- presidents would give up their addiction to over-optimistic assessments and hyped rhetoric.
"The cause of peace would be better served by lowering both expectations and the volume. The wilder the promises -- this time an American president has spoken of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by the end of the year -- the greater the disappointment when no peace materializes.
"It's not that there isn't light at the end of the tunnel. There's just no tunnel. If the goal were more modest in the Mideast, like just containing the current brush fires, it might be achievable. Instead, we get talk of a comprehensive peace treaty by the end of 2008. But the lower the expectations, the more real the achievements might be.
"Yes, such counsel sounds almost un-American. For when we Americans perceive a problem, our first impulse is to fix it -- now, completely and forever, at least on paper."