In the early hours of January 31, one of Venezuela’s largest and most important synagogues, Maripérez (popularly known as Papelón), was raided, ransacked, and defaced by a commando militia group. This news comes directly to me from Sammy Eppel, a Jewish community leader (member of the CAIV – Confederación Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela) and columnist from El Universal. I believe that this blog is the first English language media to report on the incident, and will be cross posted on our new Venezuela Report.
Mr. Eppel, whom I had the opportunity to meet during my visit to Caracas this week, tells us that around 3:00-4:00 AM, several armed men scaled the walls of the Maripérez synagogue and took the security guards by surprise, leaving them tied up and locked in a storage closet. These individuals then opened the doors to let in a group estimated to be as large as 16 people, who proceeded to ransack and destroy the building, including painting anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls and removing the scared Torah scrolls from their place of keeping. The scrolls were thrown to the floor, painted upon, shredded, and defaced. The majority of the graffiti read “Death to Jews” and “Jews Get Out of Venezuela.” There was distinct absence of any graffiti relating to the Bolivarian revolution.
“I believe that this is the result of the call to action published by the government press,which has been publishing an increasing number of specific anti-Semitic articles over the past few months,” said Mr. Eppel. “The state’s official and unacceptable position of hostility toward the Jewish community dates back to 2004.”
The raid was characterized by a high level of professionalism and apparent planning. The group seized every computer hard drive in the office – not bothering to steal keyboards or monitors or anything else of value – which contain the names, addresses and personal details of a large majority of the Jewish population of the country, said Mr. Eppel. The community fears that the seizure of this contact information could result in a new campaign of violence by state-sponsored anti-Semitic groups, some with links to Arabic radical movements.
The commados also knew exactly where to find the video surveillance technology, and erased any record of their visit. At five in the morning, the police were called to investigate the incident and look for fingerprints and other indications of the identity of the attackers. Mr. Eppel did not seem confident that the official investigations would yield any result.