This year’s presidential election between incumbent Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and contender Henrique Capriles was one of the most intensely watched and anticipated political races throughout the world for a number of reasons. Chavez, who has long been a thorn in the side of the West, was facing what many considered defeat. Had the naysayers gotten their wishes Venezuela would be headed in a very different direction, specifically as it relates to its foreign relations with the U.S. as well as Israel.
Chavez has been highly critical of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinans accusing it of committing “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”. But the breaking point was Chavez’s ardent support of Iran, Israel’s most recent arch-enemy. After a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Chavez said Iran faces “obstacles imposed by imperialism, blockaded, threats, unilateral sanctions.”
Capriles made it no secret that had he won the election he would restore relations with Israel and rethink that with Iran. “We are interested in countries that have democracies, that respect human rights, that we have an affinity with,” said Capriles. “What affinity do we have with Iran?”
To the 9,500 Venezuelan Jews as well as Jews throughout the Diaspora these words came as great comfort. Vice president of Venezuela’s Jewish umbrella organisation, Efraim Lapscher, said he expected Mr. Capriles would also re-establish relations with Israel.
Throughout the election a number of Jewish organizations were quite vocal about what they viewed as anti-Semitic comments directed at Capriles as well as what they call an exodus by Jews from Venezuela under Chavez’s rule. The director of the Anti Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said, “Blatant and persistent anti-semitism is used by President Chavez and his government apparatus as a divisive political tool. What we are seeing at the outset of Venezuela’s presidential elections is an attempt to cast the opposition candidate as a ‘traitorous Jew’ who is unworthy of the presidency.”
In a letter to Chavez, Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center called on the Venezuelan leader “to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the elections date approaches.”
Capriles’ Jewish ancestry was a major part of the discourse during the election. Is he a Jew, is he not? With all of the commentary from Jewish websites and newspapers affirming with absolution he is not, one couldn’t help but be confused — particularly given his background. Capriles is indeed the descendant of Jewish grandparents both maternally as well as on his father’s side. His father is of Sephardic ancestry from Curaçao and mother Ashkenazi. His maternal grandfather immigrated to Venezuela where his parents met.
Apparently his parents “raised” him Catholic. But when exactly this change in faith occurred is not quite clear, nor is the impetus behind it. Historically Jews have been known for switching their faith to assimilate to the dominate culture. It is common even for them to change their surnames.
Whether Capriles considers himself Jewish or not only he truly knows. But for the Jewish media at large to go to such lengths to affirm he is not but merely the descendant of Jews appears, at the very least, a bit questionable.