Hugo Chavez and anti-Semitism:

Recently Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez made some remarks regarding Jews that the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles immediatelly denounced as anti-Semitic. Here they are in full:

The world has an offer for everybody but it turned out that a few minorities–the descendants of those who crucified Christ, the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar from here and also those who in a certain way crucified him in Santa Marta, there in Colombia–they took possession of the riches of the world, a minority took possession of the planet’s gold, the silver, the minerals, the water, the good lands, the oil, and they have concentrated all the riches in the hands of a few; less than 10 percent of the world population owns more than half of the riches of the world.

FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) immediatelly released a statement, “Editing Chavez to Manufacture a Slur“, saying that the words were taking out of context:

The biggest problem with depicting Chavez’s speech as an anti-Semitic attack is that Chavez clearly suggested that “the descendants of those who crucified Christ” are the same people as “the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar from here.” As American Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who questioned the charge, told the Associated Press (1/5/06), “I know of no one who accuses the Jews of fighting against Bolivar.” Bolivar, in fact, fought against the government of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, who reinstituted the anti-Semitic Spanish Inquisition when he took power in 1813. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, a Jewish sympathizer in Curacao provided refuge to Bolivar and his family when he fled from Venezuela. Most of the accounts attacking Chavez (the Daily Standard was an exception) left the reference to Bolivar out entirely; the Wiesenthal Center deleted that clause from the speech without even offering an ellipses, which is tantamount to fabrication.

FAIR provides then “the context”:

In context, the Chavez speech seems to be an attempt by Chavez to link the attacks on his populist government to the attacks on his two oft-cited heroes, Jesus and Bolivar; the “minority” that would link the two would be the rich and powerful minority of society. The reference to “less than 10 percent of the world population” owning half the wealth also makes the idea that Chavez was talking about Jews far-fetched; 10 percent of 6 billion would be 600 million people. (According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, there are approximately 15 million Jewish people in the world.)

This strikes me as a lame excuse. But we at the Augean Stables would like to hear your opinion.

11 Responses to Hugo Chavez and anti-Semitism:

  1. Attila Girl says:

    It’s a pretty convoluted little speech, and in fact the Romans crucified Christ. However, I simply can’t concoct an interpretation of the speech that isn’t anti-Semitic. I mean, at best it comes across as a diatribe against Jews and all the other rich, powerful people who control the wealth on this planet.

  2. Lynne says:

    I agree with Attila Girl. Chavez is probably a speechifying rambler who lumps Jews in with the privileged few. There is likely a germ of antisemitism in him, but yet to make it to the class of the most virulent of antisemites, like Iran’s thug-in-chief.

  3. Solomon says:

    When this came up originally, it was pointed out that the speech makes more sense from the viewpoint of liberation theology, in which, I’m given to understand (I know next to nothing about it, other than it’s some sort of amalgam of Marxism and Christianity – go figure), capitalists take the place of Jews in the demonology. So you get these antisemitic sounding phrases that aren’t meant to be. Of course, since Jews are associated with money and the like, and that’s the association that most listeners will make regardless of intent (and I doubt the intent is innocent, either, since the hard-left, and Chavez, is also associated quite commonly with antisemitism and anti-Israelism) the danger and inadvisability of this kind of rhetoric remains.

    Which is a stronger association in the average listener (even in Central and South America), the tropes of antisemitism, or the subtleties of Liberation Theology?

  4. Andrew Gow says:

    I agree with Solomon, Lynne and Attila Girl. Jews replace capitalists in all sorts of critical social discourses, left and right (remember the Nazis?).

    It’s clear that the Wiesenthal Center screwed up. So did Chavez. But oratory and printed texts are different genres. From the sound of his rambling speech, Chavez was listing people who have more of a share than others, some of whom he does not like. He does not like Romans, who crucified Jesus, and he gets them confused with Jews… Well, sometimes I get confused too, and I think that populist leaders are ranting demagogues. We all make mistakes. Some of us make unnecessary ones that can be avoided by acquiring a modicum of learning.

    And guess what? We Jews are almost all part of that 600-million-strong group of people who (collectively) own half the world’s wealth. It’s simply true. Is it a bad thing? Not for me and mine it’s not. But a Venezuelan campesino might feel otherwise–about all 600 million of us, Jews and all. That’s his right.

  5. RL says:

    i differ with the comments so far. here is the speech:

    The world has an offer for everybody but it turned out that a few minorities–the descendants of those who crucified Christ, the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar from here and also those who in a certain way crucified him in Santa Marta, there in Colombia–they took possession of the riches of the world, a minority took possession of the planet’s gold, the silver, the minerals, the water, the good lands, the oil, and they have concentrated all the riches in the hands of a few; less than 10 percent of the world population owns more than half of the riches of the world.

    For a Catholic of Latin America, trained in Liberation Theology, there is only one “killer of Christ” and that’s the Joooos. The Bolivar stuff seems like part of a typical “the Joooos did everything bad regardless of what really happened” — like Farrakhan and the Jooos were the masterminds of the slave trade; or the latest, the Joooos blew up the golden dome.

    as for the reflections on the world’s wealth, aside from the a-historical nature of it — a tiny minority took possession of the world’s wealth before the Jews ever appeared on the planet — and the loopy nature of the statistics (i think he meant to say 1%, and still the Jews are 1/5 of that number), i don’t think they in any way change the nature of his target, i.e., the Jooos. his point is not that the moneyed classes crucified Christ, as Andrew Gow seems to infer, but that the people who killed Christ took over the moneyed classes.

    Finally, what Chavez meant is less important than how he was heard, and in that sense i think the answer to Solomonia’s question is that the tropes of antisemtism and the subtleties of liberation theology are not mutually exclusive in thiss case — at all. so to disagree with Gow, the Wiesenthal Center got it right, and that FAIR is engaged in damage control by spinning their cognitive egocentrism (i.e., Chavez must know what we know (or what Waskow knows) and weight it the same way we do).

    Does Chavez read the Jewish Virtual Library? If he did, would he walk away with the same reading as Waskow and FAIR? I don’t think so…

    r

  6. John Ray says:

    You expect Chavez to be logical and well-informed?

    He may think there ARE 600 million Jews

  7. RL says:

    precisely.

    i was in paris in the spring of 2003, just before the US went into iraq (and after Chirac had promised the veto), and i met these young military students from Saint Cyr who were singing school songs at 2am on the place saint-michel. we started a conversation and at one point one of them asked me: “You know why Chirac’s policy is pro-Zionist?”
    i knew better than to argue with him, so i replied, “no, why?”
    “because there are so many jews in france.”
    “what percent would you say there were?” i replied.
    “twenty percent.”
    “and how many arabs?”
    “less.”
    at this point his buddies, who had no problem with the 20% jews, objected. “there are more arabs than jews.”
    “then over 40% of the french population is either jewish or arab?” i noted.
    they realized there was a problem with this, but not one to “break their heads over” as the french expression goes.
    r

  8. howard Roberts says:

    I am afraid you are very quick again to blame the solution to our global greed-by mistaking those new Roman centurions, the fat-ass super-rich
    who control more than three quaters of the earth’s wealth, with another group.
    Nothing in this statement-even when it is selectively taken out of context-mentions the Jews.
    Take a lesson from a true global hero, Hugo Chavez, and begin to share the wealth-like he has done-and stop looking for scapegoats or scapegoated one’s, to excuse the obscene crimes of global capital.

  9. howard Roberts says:

    Hugo Chavez Is Crazy!
    By Greg Palast, AlterNet. Posted June 25, 2003.

    Well, actually, he’s not. How the American media distorted events in Venezuela beyond all recognition is clear to one who reported from there.

    Last June, on Page One of the San Francisco Chronicle, an Associated Press photo of a mass of demonstrators carried the following caption:

    “TENS OF THOUSANDS OF VENEZUELANS OPPOSED TO PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ…”

    The caption let us know this South American potentate was a killer, an autocrat, and the people of his nation wanted him out. The caption continued: “[Venezuelans] marched Saturday to demand his resignation and punishment for those responsible for 17 deaths during a coup in April. ‘Chavez leave now!’ read a huge banner.”

    There was no actual story in the Chronicle — South America simply isn’t worth wasting words on — just the photo and caption. But the Chronicle knew no story was needed. Venezuelans hated their terrible president, and all you needed was this photo to prove it.

    And I could confirm the large protests. I’d recently returned from Caracas and watched 100,000 march against President Chavez. I’d filmed them for BBC Television London.

    But I also filmed this: a larger march, easily over 200,000 Venezuelans marching in support of their president, Chavez.

    That picture, of the larger pro-Chavez march, did not appear in a single U.S. newspaper. The pro-Chavez marchers weren’t worth a mention.

    By the next month, when the New York Times printed a photo of anti-Chavez marchers, they had metastasized. The Times reported that 600,000 had protested against Chavez.

    Once again, the larger pro-Chavez demonstrations were, as they say in Latin America, “disappeared.” I guess they didn’t fit the print.

    Look at the Chronicle/AP photo of the anti-Chavez marchers in Venezuela. Note their color. White.

    And not just any white. A creamy rich white.

    I interviewed them and recorded in this order: a banker in high heels and push-up bra; an oil industry executive (same outfit); and a plantation owner who rode to Caracas in a silver Jaguar.

    And the color of the pro-Chavez marchers? Dark brown. Brown and round as cola nuts — just like their hero, their President Chavez. They wore an unvarying uniform of jeans and T-shirts.

    Let me explain.

    For five centuries, Venezuela has been run by a minority of very white people, pure-blood descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. To most of the 80 percent of Venezuelans who are brown, Hugo Chavez is their Nelson Mandela, the man who will smash the economic and social apartheid that has kept the dark-skinned millions stacked in cardboard houses in the hills above Caracas while the whites live in high-rise splendor in the city center. Chavez, as one white Caracas reporter told me with a sneer, gives them bricks and milk, and so they vote for him.

    Why am I explaining the basics of Venezuela to you? If you watched BBC TV, or Canadian Broadcasting, you’d know all this stuff. But if you read the New York Times, you’ll only know that President Chavez is an “autocrat,” a “ruinous demagogue,” and a “would-be dictator,” who resigned when he recognized his unpopularity.

    Odd phrasings — “dictator” and “autocrat” — to describe Chavez, who was elected by a landslide majority (56 percent) of the voters. Unlike our President.

    On April 12, 2002, Chavez resigned his presidency It said so, right there in the paper — every major newspaper in the USA, every single one. Apparently, to quote the New York Times, Chavez recognized that he was unpopular, his time was up: “With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.”

    Problem was, the “resignation” story was a fabulous fib, a phantasmagoric fabrication. In fact, the President of Venezuela had been kidnapped at gunpoint and bundled off by helicopter from the presidential palace. He had not resigned; he never resigned; and one of his captors (who secretly supported Chavez) gave him a cell-phone from which he called and confirmed to friends and family that he remained alive — and still president.

    Working for the Guardian and the BBC, I was able within hours of the kidnapping to reach key government people in Venezuela to confirm that this “resignation” factoid was just hoodoo nonsense.

    But it was valuable nonsense to the U.S. State Department. The faux resignation gave the new U.S.-government-endorsed Venezuelan leaders the pretense of legitimacy — Chavez had resigned; this was a legal change of government, not a coup d’etat. (The Organization of American States bars recognition of governments who come to power through violence.) Had the coup leaders not bungled their operation — the coup collapsed within 48 hours — or if they had murdered Chavez, we would never have known the truth.

    The U.S. papers got it dead wrong — but how? Who was the source of this “resignation” lie? I asked a U.S. reporter why American news media had reported this nonsense as stone fact without checking. The reply was that it came from a reliable source: “We got it from the State Department.”

    Oh.

    “He’s crazy,” shouts a protester about President Chavez on one broadcast. And if you watched the 60 Minutes interview with Chavez, you saw a snippet of a lengthy conversation — a few selective seconds, actually — which, out of context, did made Chavez look loony.

    In the old Soviet Union, dissidents were packed off to insane asylums to silence and discredit them. In our democracy we have a more subtle — and more effective — means of silencing and discrediting dissidents. Television, radio, and print press obligingly sequester enemies of the state in the media’s madhouse. In this way, Bush critic Rep. Cynthia McKinney became “loony” (see “The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney”); Chavez a mad “autocrat.”

    It’s the electronic loony bin. You no longer hear what they have to say because you’ve been told by images, by repetition, and you’ve already dismissed their words … if by some chance their words break through the television Berlin Wall.

    Try it: Do a Google or Lexis search on the words Chavez and autocrat.

    For who is the autocrat? Today, there are hundreds of people held in detention without charges in George Bush’s United States. In Venezuela, there are none.

    This is not about Venezuela but about the Virtual Venezuela, created for you by America’s news wardens. The escape routes are guarded.

    January 5, 2003, New York City. Picked up bagels and the Sunday Times on Delancey Street. Looks like that s.o.b. Chavez is at it again: Here was a big picture of a half-dozen people lying on the ground. The Times story read: “Protesters shielded themselves from tear gas during an anti- government rally on Friday in Caracas, Venezuela. In the 33rd day of a national strike, several protesters were shot.”

    That was it — the entire story of Venezuela for the Paper of Record.

    Maybe size doesn’t matter. But this does: Even this itty-bitty story is a steaming hot bag of mendacity. Yes, two people were shot dead — those in the pro-Chavez march.

    I’d be wrong to say that every U.S. paper repeated the Times sloppy approach. Elsewhere, you could see a photo of the big pro-Chavez march and a photo of the “Chavista” widow placed within an explanatory newswire story. Interestingly, the fuller and correct story ran in an outlet that’s none too friendly to Chavez: El Diario, New York City’s oldest Spanish-language newspaper.

    Lesson: If you want to get accurate news in the United States, you might want to learn a language other than English.

    Friday, January 3, 2003. The New York Times ran a long “News Analysis: Venezuela Outlook.” Four experts were quoted. For balance, two of them don’t like Chavez, while the other two despise him.

    The Times reporter wrote that “the president says he will stay in power.” “In power?” What a strange phrase for an elected official. Having myself spoken with Chavez, it did not sound like him. He indicated he would stay “in office” — quite a different inference than “in power.” But then, the Times’ phrasing isn’t in quotes.

    That’s because Chavez never said it.

    This article was based on a contribution to the compendium, “Abuse Your Illusions,” released this month by Disinformation Press. Oliver Shykles, Fredda Weinberg, Ina Howard, and Phil Tanfield contributed research for this report. Palast, an investigative reporter for BBC television, is author of the New York Times bestseller, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” (Penguin/Plume 2003).

  10. RL says:

    Howard Roberts writes:

    I am afraid you are very quick again to blame the solution to our global greed-by mistaking those new Roman centurions, the fat-ass super-rich who control more than three quaters of the earth’s wealth, with another group.

    i’m not clear what you mean by “blame the solution”. my sense is that Chavez is blaming the fat-ass super-rich by conflating them with another group — jews.

    Nothing in this statement-even when it is selectively taken out of context-mentions the Jews

    nothing? “the descendants of those who crucified Christ”? what else can it mean?

    Take a lesson from a true global hero, Hugo Chavez, and begin to share the wealth-like he has done-and stop looking for scapegoats or scapegoated one’s, to excuse the obscene crimes of global capital.

    i’m not really a specialist in these matters, but the scapegoating looks like it’s coming from your “global hero” — nor is this unusual for people who rise to power promising to “share the wealth” and then find it’s not so easy. it’s just what that earlier “true global hero” Nasser did to the Egyptians. his career — egalitarian with global ambitions, mixed success once in power, personality cult with authoritarian tendencies — fits the profile for scapegoating.
    i’d be wary of hero-worship. it’s a set-up of either disappointment or, more likely, scapegoating.
    rl

  11. howard Roberts says:

    No conflating going on in this comment-just your perceived mistrust of alternatives to capitalism.
    No mention of Jews-just those centurions of the market who suck wealth out of us poor peoiple.

    Chavez is, what Chavez is doing-ask any campesino in Caracas.
    Nasser placated power from the right.
    Chavez knows the global baloney factory is about to be shut down-so
    maybe us poor people can, for once, survive.
    History could be used by the victors to dispose of the victims-again.
    But I will leave a space in my drawer for Hugo’s t-shirt-next to Che’s.

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