Creative Destruction

September 27, 2006

Chavez Might Not Be Antisemitic, But He Embraces Woman-Hating Iran

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics — Ampersand @ 11:02 am

In a previous post, I asked “Alas” readers about the translation controversy regarding Chavez and antisemitism. In the comments, Elana, who is a professional Spanish translator, said the real issue is “do references to ‘Christ killers’ and ‘gold and silver’ have the same connotations in their culture as they do in ours?”

Since then, I’ve come across an article which convincingly suggests that “Christ-killers” does not have the same antisemitic connotation in Venezuela. The article was originally printed in the Forward, an American Jewish magazine that I think is generally credible.

Here are the most relevant bits (emphasis added by me):

The Venezuelan Jewish community leadership and several major American Jewish groups are accusing the Simon Wiesenthal Center of rushing to judgment by charging Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, with making antisemitic remarks.

Officials of the leading organization of Venezuelan Jewry were preparing a letter this week to the center, complaining that it had misinterpreted Chavez’s words and had failed to consult with them before attacking the Venezuelan president. […]

Both the AJCommittee and the American Jewish Congress seconded the Venezuelan community’s view that Chavez’s comments were not aimed at Jews. All three groups said he was aiming his barbs at the white oligarchy that has dominated the region since the colonial era, pointing to his reference to Bolivar as the clearest evidence of his intent.

One official noted that Latin America’s so-called Liberation Theology has long depicted Jesus as a socialist and consequently speaks of gentile business elites as “Christ-killers.”

So it appears that the strong case for Chavez being an antisemite is based at least in part upon an unfair translation.

There are also translation controversies regarding antisemitism and the statements of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran; the arguments and counter-arguments are described in this Wikipedia article. To me, criticism of Ahmadinejad for antisemitism seems – if not absolutely certain – on much firmer ground than similar criticism of Chavez. On the other hand, like Y-Love at Jewschool, I do see Ahmadinejad’s explicit separation of “zionism” and “Jews” as a potentially positive step.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Chavez EmbraceSo why am I bringing Ahmadinejad up? Because Chavez has praised Ahmadinejad publicly (that’s the two of them pictured together on the right). (It’s notable that Venezuelan Jewish leaders have expressed “outrage” at the friendly relations with Ahmadinejad).

People have argued over if Ahmadinejad’s statements are anti-semitic – did he really call for Israel to be wiped off the map, or did he just call for the current Israeli government to be replaced? There is, however, no doubt at all that Iran’s policies are deeply anti-woman. In a woman’s enews article, Jennifer Fasulo points out that “moments like this show just how little women’s lives matter in the world of nationalist politics.”

There is no excuse for declaring solidarity with a theocratic regime that treats women like sub-humans. By embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism.

In this equation, the only thing that matters is opposition to U.S. military power. Women’s rights, worker’s rights, student’s rights–the things that are supposed to matter to socialists, progressives and people of conscience–be damned.

Chavez appears not to have noticed that the current government of Iran has turned Iran into a country where gender apartheid and hatred of women are enshrined in law.
Regime of Violent Repression

This is a country where women are stoned to death for the “crime” of adultery, buried up to their necks and pelted in the face and head with stones until they die, where women have no right to divorce or child custody, are legally forced to veil under threat of physical beating or imprisonment, can’t travel without the permission of a husband or father, where their testimony in a court of law is considered half that of a man, and where political dissent of any kind, for women and men, is punishable by imprisonment, often torture and death.

This is the government that Chavez compares to his own as a “heroic nation,” one which he even deems “revolutionary.” […]

For 27 years women have resisted and defied the [Iranian] regime’s persecution of them, often at great risk to their lives. Along with an inspiring women’s movement, there are strong, secular workers and student movements, all of them opposing not only the Islamic Republic, but also U.S. threats of military attacks and sanctions on Iran.

How can Chavez–a declared socialist and defender of the downtrodden–align himself with the leader of such a reactionary regime, rather than the inspiring socialist and feminist movements which are fighting against it?

Fasulo’s entire article is well worth reading.



  1. Why are you on a fishing expedition to find reasons to hate Chavez? I don’t get it. Why not just post about how wrong the current Iranian government is? Chavez is a hero of Latin solidarity for good reasons. Of course he should denounce thr Iranian government, but I don’t understand why you are so after him.

    Comment by saltyC — September 27, 2006 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  2. Because Amp is smart, and he knows that Chavez is a bad man who is likely to do something really really terrible in the foreseeable future, and he wants to distance himself from his fellow socialist now, before it’s too late.

    “Hero of Latin solidarity” my white, pimply, capitalist butt.

    Comment by Robert — September 27, 2006 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

  3. I disagree with the assumption, shared by SaltyC and Robert, that I’m on a fishing expedition at all.

    I posted about Falwell’s joke and appended a bit about Chavez because I anticipated “why do you mention Falwell but not Chavez?” critiques otherwise. Far from wanting to slam Chavez, I ran into the point that the “Chavez is antisemitic” criticism might be unfair and pointed that out.

    But I also think that the womensenews article, which they emailed to me earlier today, is a fair point. I’ve never shied away from criticizing acceptance of sexism among progressives; why on Earth make an exception for Chavez? But I’m not “gunning for Chavez,” any more than I was ever gunning for the other lefties I’ve criticized on much the same basis over the years.

    But lefties shouldn’t be blinded to Chavez’s flaws. He’s strongly pro-life, for example, and has only been prevented from outlawing abortion through the intervention of Venezuelan feminists.

    As for Chavez doing something really terrible, as Robert predicts: Once that’s been established – by credible sources – then I won’t hesitate to criticize it[*]. You know, if he endorses torture or imprisons people without trial or something like that. But I’m excited by the new progressive movement in Latin America, and that movement is bigger and more important than any single politician.

    (* Nor will I feel obliged to blog about it – it’s hardly as if Chavez blogging is my primary focus as a blogger, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the man before this week.)

    Comment by Ampersand — September 27, 2006 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  4. Whereas Robert is not smart, and doesn’t feel the need to distance himself from US Republicanism, despite the fact that it has done terrible things in the past, is doing terrible things now, and is certain to do terrible things in the future.

    Comment by Daran — September 27, 2006 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

  5. Maybe I am indeed unsmart. I do not feel any need to distance myself from my political allies, and I stand on what we have done, taking credit for good and responsibility for bad. We have been far better than the alternatives would have been, and that will continue to be true into the future.

    (Pause to smack Amp on the back so that he doesn’t bite through his biscotti and choke to death.)

    Mmmm, biscotti. (Made all the tastier if it was baked in a non-union plant! Mmmm, blood of the workers.)

    Comment by Robert — September 27, 2006 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

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