I was sorting out some books today and came across a small volume, Chavez: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – A Case Study of Politics and The Media with an accompanying DVD. Published in 2008 (Wallflower), I can’t recall where I picked it up. Flicking through it, quite by chance I fell on this excerpt from a Chavez speech which had been attacked for being anti-semitic:
The world has enough for everybody but it has turned out that a few minorities – the descendants of those who crucified Christ, the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar from here and those who crucified in him in a certain way in Santa Marta in Columbia – they took possession of the riches of the world, a minority took possession of the planet’s gold, the silver, the minerals, the water, the good lands, the oil and they have concentrated all the riches in the hands of the few; less than 10% of the world’s population owns more than half of the riches of the world. (p.102)
The book’s author, Rod Stoneman comments:
The full quotation, with its references to Simon Bolivar alongside Jesus Christ clearly indicates that Chavez is referring to the rich rather than Jews; as an American Rabbi put it ‘no-one accuses Jews of fighting Bolivar.’ Fred Pressner, President of the Federation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, speedily refuted the allegations and reprimanded the Simon Wiesenthal Centre ‘You have interfered in the political status, in the security and in the wellbeing of our community. You have acted on your own, without consulting us, on issues that you don’t know and don’t understand.’ Chavez’s perspective is clear in another speech he made on 5th December, 2006 when quoting extensively from the Sermon on the Mount, he asserts ‘Christ was a radical rebel, a man of justice, that’s why he was crucified by the capitalists of the time, the imperialists.’ Chavez spoke about the allegations in the National Assembly on 13th January, 2007 refuting the charges and accused the Wiesenthal Centre of ‘following the instructions of the empire.’
I am surprised no-one has picked up the possibility of Chavez being anti-semitic – surely Tom Bower’s researchers sought to tie down all the Venezuelan leader’s influences (supposed) on Jeremy Corbyn? (Perhaps it’s in Bower’s book, but no-one seems to have raised it and I have no intention of buying the blessed volume.) From my perspective, the defence cited above of Chavez is pretty thin – there were imperialists at the time of the Crucifixion but Chavez’s language is sloppy. ‘The crucifiers of Christ’ is a longstanding anti-semitic trope – one that was a continual source of Christian Jew-hatred for centuries. I suppose one could consider the Romans in Palestine a minority – albeit a well-armed one. But it’s a weird reference for Chavez to make – the descendants of the Romans included Constantine, after all. Stoneman is also treading on dodgy water when he follows in Chavez’s footsteps and conflates Christ’s crucifiers with ‘capitalists.’ Defenders of privilege maybe, but capitalists? I’ve never heard the word applied to that period of history before. It’s all mixed up.
I think we can safely assume that Chavez was prone to making colourful flourishes in his speeches. I think it may be possible he didn’t give too much thought to the possible interpretations put on them. We may yet hear more about this.