Chavez: 'We Respect and Love the Jews'

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeff is observing Rosh Hashanah today, but he wanted us to share this news with Goldblog readers.       -- Bob Cohn, editorial director Atlantic Digital

During a visit to the International Tourism Fair in Caracas yesterday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced he would meet with leaders of Venezuela's Jewish community. "We respect and love the Jewish people," said Chavez, who added that opponents have falsely painted him as "anti-Jewish."

Chavez has been a close ally of Iran and a strong critic of Israel. He severed ties with Israel in January 2009 to protest its actions in the Gaza Strip. A series of recent incidents have ignited concerns about anti-Semitic violence in Venezuela.

The Chavez remarks came one day after Jeff wrote on this blog about his recent reporting trip to Havana and his conversations with Fidel Castro. Castro excoriated anti-Semitism and criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust. The former Cuban president called upon Ahmadinejad to "stop slandering the Jews." (Castro also expressed misgivings about his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that's another story.)

Jeff reports that, according to people he has been in touch with overnight, Chavez's new rhetoric and willingness to meet with Jewish leaders is "a direct result of Fidel's statement."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/chavez-we-respect-and-love-the-jews/62693/