NEW YORK – Acerbic and hate-filled statements by President Hugo Chavez and other Venezuelan government leaders are once again contributing to a climate of rising antisemitism in Venezuela, where extreme criticism of Israel “continues to be used as a political tool.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), recent statements from Chavez and others in the government fit into a pattern of extreme anti-Israel rhetoric from Venezuela’s current leaders. In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, Chavez cursed Israel as a “terrorist state” and an enemy of the Venezuelan revolution and claimed Israel’s Mossad spy agency was trying to assassinate him.

“Extreme criticism and the de-legitimization of Israel continue to be used by the government of Venezuela as a political tool,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “The atmosphere of extreme anti-Israel criticism and an unsettling focus on the Venezuelan Jewish community’s attitudes creates an environment for antisemitism to grow and flourish. So far this hasn't translated into attacks against individual Jews or Jewish institutions. However, we cannot forget that the Jewish community in Venezuela has already witnessed violent antisemitic incidents in the past few years.”

In a new online report, the league documents recent antisemitic expressions in Venezuela in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, including those of government and political leaders, conspiracy theories and accusations in the government-run media, and statements on various anti-Israel web sites.

In a June 12 interview with the government-owned national television network, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was asked about Hezbollah’s alleged presence in Venezuela and the threat of an attack on the Jewish community. He suggested that should a terrorist attack be carried out on Venezuelan soil, a likely culprit would be the “intelligence assassin apparatus of the state of Israel,” the Mossad.

Vilification of Zionism is particularly present in the government-run media and the so-called “alternative” media run by government sympathizers who are intricately intertwined with the government apparatus, according to ADL. Media and political leaders seem to take their cues from Chavez, who has in the past few years made his feelings about Israel all-too clear.

“While Chavez tries to inoculate himself against charges of antisemitism by issuing assurances that he is not against Jews, he and his government hold the Jewish community to account for their positions on Israel,” said Foxman. “Chavez has called on Venezuelan Jews to speak out against Israel, and this has put the community in a difficult position where their loyalty to their country is being called into question.”

The ADL’s report includes examples of cartoons and images from anti-Israel rallies, as well as excerpts of antisemitic and anti-Israel statements from the Web site, whose founder and webmaster until February 2009 was Martin Sanchez, the Venezuelan consul general of San Francisco. Aporrea is a forum for antisemitic sentiments filled with stereotypes of Jews reminiscent of the fictional Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.