(JNS.org) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, known for his close relationship with Iran and his adversarial one with Israel, died Tuesday at 58 following a two-year battle with cancer.
Chavez in 2006, during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, was the first head of state to condemn Israel’s actions. In reaction to the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, in which nine militants who attacked Israeli soldiers were killed, Chavez shouted, “Damn you, State of Israel!” In 2009, when Israel responded militarily to Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza, Chavez told the French newspaper Le Figaro that Israel had launched a “genocide” against the Palestinians, saying, “The question is not whether the Israelis want to exterminate the Palestinians. They’re doing it openly.”
Finally, during the Israel Defense Forces’ fall 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, Chavez said, “Another attack on the Gaza Strip began. Savage. Savage. Israel again bombing the Gaza Strip. Reasons? What reasons? Because [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted once again he will ask for Palestine to be included as a member of the United Nations.”
Among the fellow dictators befriended by Chavez were Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and Cuban Presidents Fidel and Raul Castro.
In January 2012, Chavez mocked the U.S. for warning the world to avoid close ties with Iran.
“They’re not going to be able to dominate this world,” he said of Iran. “Forget about it, [President Barack] Obama, forget about it. It would be better to think about the problems in your country, which are many. We are free. The people of Latin America will never again kneel, dominated by the imperial Yankee. Never again.”
On Wednesday, Ahmadenijad reacted to Chavez’s death by calling him a “martyr” who fell to a “suspect illness,” the Lebanese Daily Star reported.
Last year, when Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles—a practicing Catholic whose mother’s family, the Radonskis, arrived in Venezuela after surviving the Holocaust in Poland, and who has other family members that perished in the Nazi concentration camps—ran for president, Chavez’s camp called him a “gringo,” “bourgeois,” “imperialist,” and “Zionist,” using “Zionist” to mean “Jew.”
“Chavez will probably be remembered as the one who made Venezuelan Jews feel that for the first time they were not welcome in their own country, a chilling reminder of past tragedies,” Sammy Eppel, director of the Human Rights Commission of B’nai B’rith Venezuela, told JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen in January.
After Chavez’s death, B’nai B’rith International told JNS.org that it “hopes for a positive democratic outcome and for peace for the people of Venezuela in the wake of the death of Hugo Chavez.”