Venezuelan Jews, fleeing crisis, seek new life in Israel

Military crackdown of protests in Venezuela (Photo: screenshot)

Jews from Venezuela have been making international headlines recently as they are immigrating to Israel in increasing numbers in order to escape the deepening political and economic crisis in the South American nation.

There are now around 1,500 Venezuelan Jews in Israel. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem helped some 90 of them to immigrate in the last year.

Immigration from Venezuela is a complex issue as the country has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was notoriously hostile to the Jewish state and expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel’s war with Hamas in 2009.

In a 2010 speech Chavez also cursed Israel saying: “I take this opportunity to condemn again from the bottom of my soul and my guts the State of Israel: Cursed be, State of Israel! Cursed is cursed, terrorists and assassins!”

After Chavez’ death in 2013, Nicolas Maduro (of Chavez’ socialist party) was elected as the new president. Relations between Israel and Venezuela continued to be icy as Maduro called on the Jewish community to condemn the 2014 Israel-Gaza war and made statements comparing Israel to the Nazis.

A combination of grave government mismanagement and the plummeting of the price of oil, Venezuela’s chief export, has resulted in empty supermarket shelves. President Nicolas Maduro declared a state of emergency on May 13.

Jews have lived in Venezuela since the 17th century, and some 6,000 still remain. This figure is down drastically from 25,000 in the 1990s when Jews began leaving the country in earnest due to anti-Semitic rhetoric from the government.

While the United States had been a popular destination for Venezuelan Jewish relocation, many recently affected by the current economic crisis are considering Israel instead since the country provides financial aid to help new immigrants get started.

“‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them. For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers. Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen,’ declares the LORD, ‘and they will fish for them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and from the clefts of the rocks.
For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes.’”

Jeremiah 16:15-17