Venezuelan president meets Jewish leaders to discuss cooperation despite controversial ties

Marcus Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro welcomed Jewish leaders at the governmental palace to strengthen cooperation.

Ties between the government and the Jewish community have faced roadblocks at times in the country.

“A good day of dialog for peace. Boosting the co-existence and the dialog of civilizations, of religions to consolidate our nation,” Maduro tweeted after the Tuesday meeting in Caracas, which was also attended by foreign affairs minister Delcy Rodriguez.

The Jewish delegation was led by Rabbi Isaac Cohen, spiritual leader of the Asociacion Israelita de Venezuela, which represents the country’s Sephardic community. Members of the country’s umbrella Jewish organization, the Confederacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela, also attended.

According to the state-owned Telesur channel, which distributed the news to all other media outlets, the meetings were intended to “strengthen the cooperation and fraternity ties” with the Jewish community.

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On the same day, Maduro had met a Catholic envoy representing Pope Francis. On Monday, he welcomed Spain’s ex-Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Last week, the United States barred Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami from entering the U.S., accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking. El Aissami also has been accused of anti-Semitism and ties to Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric was often employed by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s political godfather, to deflect criticism from the country’s deep financial crisis and charges of corruption.

Venezuela is home to some 9,000 Jews, down from about 25,000 in 1999. Many Jews left, mainly for Florida and Israel, due to a deteriorating financial and social climate, along with a growing anti-Semitic environment established under the Chavez and Maduro regimes.