At the start of Chavez's rule, the Jewish community in Venezuela numbered about 30,000. Solid statistics are hard to come by but most estimates now put the number at between 8,000 and 15,000 today. About 50 percent of Venezuela's Jewish community had fled to the country to escape the Nazis during World War II. Neither they nor their children would require much prodding to sense danger. The raids, the propaganda, the hostile press, might have been enough. But then consider this: The man Chavez placed in charge of internal security is one Tarek al Assaimi, son of Saddam Hussein's envoy to Venezuela.
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 and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, who are urging members of Congress to hold hearings on the matter. Weiss reports that Rep. Elliott Engel (D., NY) was willing to call a hearing but was dissuaded by the Conference of Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations.
Dina Siegel Vann, speaking of behalf of the American Jewish Congress, published an op-ed in the Miami Herald scolding those who want to make as public a protest as possible. "Shouting and screaming from the safety of the United States may feel good to some," she wrote, "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 . . ." Her title: "Let's use diplomacy, not public protests."
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. Bill Buckley quipped at the time that he hoped the Soviets would release every Jew who wanted to emigrate except one -- to keep alive the Jewish pressure that was so helpful in the larger Cold War. The Venezuelan Jews themselves have asked for such international pressure. They believe Chavez is very sensitive about international opinion. It would be naive to place faith in diplomacy alone.