The latest evidence, we are told, that Hugo Chávez is a dictator and a threat to life as we know it is that he pushed for and got a constitutional amendment to remove term limits from the presidency. The American media and the opposition in Venezuela often make it sound as if Chávez is going to be guaranteed office for life, whereas he of course will have to be elected each time. Neither are we reminded that it’s not unusual for a nation to not have a term limit for its highest office. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, if not all of Europe and much of the rest of the world, do not have such a limit. The United States did not have a term limit on the office of the president during the nation’s first 162 years, until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951. Were all American presidents prior to that time dictators?

In 2005, when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe succeeded in getting term limits lifted, the US mainstream media took scant notice. President Bush subsequently honored Uribe with the American Presidential Medal of Freedom. But in the period leading up to the February 15 referendum in Venezuela, the American media were competing with each other over who could paint Chávez and the Venezuelan constitutional process in the most critical and ominous terms. Typical was an op-ed in the Washington Post the day before the vote, which was headlined: “Closing in on Hugo Chávez”. Its opening sentence read: “The beginning of the end is setting in for Hugo Chávez.”12

For several years now, the campaign to malign Chávez has at times included issues of Israel and anti-Semitism. An isolated vandalism of a Caracas synagogue on January 30th of this year fed into this campaign. Synagogues are of course vandalized occasionally in the United States and many European countries, but no one ascribes this to a government policy driven by anti-semitism. With Chávez they do. In the American media, the lead up to the Venezuelan vote was never far removed from the alleged “Jewish” issue.

“Despite the government’s efforts to put the [synagogue] controversy to rest,” the New York Times wrote a few days before the referendum vote, “a sense of dread still lingers among Venezuela’s 12,000 to 14,000 Jews.”13

A day earlier, a Washington Post editorial was entitled: “Mr. Chávez vs. the Jews – With George W. Bush gone, Venezuela’s strongman has found new enemies.”14 Shortly before, a Post headline had informed us: “Jews in S. America Increasingly Uneasy – Government and Media Seen Fostering Anti-Semitism in Venezuela, Elsewhere”15

So commonplace has the Chávez-Jewish association become that a leading US progressive organization, Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in Washington, DC, recently distributed an article that reads more like the handiwork of a conservative group than a progressive one. I was prompted to write to them as follows:

Dear People,

I’m very sorry to say that I found your Venezuelan commentary by Larry Birns and David Rosenblum Felson to be remarkably lacking. The authors seem unable, or unwilling, to distinguish between being against Israeli policies from anti-semitism. It’s kind of late in the day for them to not have comprehended the difference. They are forced to fall back on a State Department statement to make their case. Is that not enough said?

They condemn Chávez likening Israel’s occupation of Gaza to the Holocaust. But what if it’s an apt comparison? They don’t delve into this question at all.

They also condemn the use of the word “Zionism”, saying that “in 9 times out of 10 involving the use of this word in fact smacks of anti-Semitism.” Really? Can they give a precise explanation of how one distinguishes between an anti-Semitic use of the word and a non-anti-semitic use of it? That would be interesting.

The authors write that Venezuela’s “anti-Israeli initiative … revealingly transcends the intensity of almost every Arabic nation or normal adversary of Israel.” Really. Since when are the totally gutless, dictator Arab nations the standard bearer for progressives? The ideal we should emulate. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are almost never seriously and harshly critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Therefore, Venezuela shouldn’t be?

The authors state: “In a Christmas Eve address to the nation, Chávez charged that, ‘Some minorities, descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ … took all the world’s wealth for themselves’. Here, Chávez was not talking so much about Robin Hood, but rather unquestionably dipping into the lore of anti-Semitism.” Well, here’s the full quote: “The world has enough for all, but it turns out that some minorities, descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ, descendants of the same ones who threw Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way at Santa Marta there in Colombia …” Hmm, were the Jews so active in South America?

The ellipsis after the word “Christ” indicates that the authors consciously and purposely omitted the words that would have given the lie to their premise. Truly astonishing.

After Chávez won the term-limits referendum with about 55% of the vote, a State Department spokesperson stated: “For the most part this was a process that was fully consistent with democratic process.” Various individuals and websites on the left have responded to this as an encouraging sign that the Obama administration is embarking on a new Venezuelan policy. At the risk of sounding like a knee-reflex cynic, I think this attitude is at best premature, at worst rather naive. It’s easy for a State Department a level-or-so above the Bushies, i.e., semi-civilized, to make such a statement. A little more difficult would be accepting as normal and unthreatening Venezuela having good relations with countries like Cuba, Iran and Russia and not blocking Venezuela from the UN Security Council. Even more significant would be the United States ending its funding of groups in Venezuela determined to subvert and/or overthrow Chávez.

You’ve got to be carefully taught

I’ve been playing around with a new book for awhile. I don’t know if I’ll find the time to actually complete it, but if I do it’ll be called something like “Myths of U.S. foreign policy: How Americans keep getting fooled into support”. The leading myth of all, the one which entraps more Americans than any other, is the belief that the United States, in its foreign policy, means well. American leaders may make mistakes, they may blunder, they may lie, they may even on the odd occasion cause more harm than good, but they do mean well. Their intentions are honorable, if not divinely inspired. Of that most Americans are certain. And as long as a person clings to that belief, it’s rather unlikely that s/he will become seriously doubtful and critical of the official stories.

It takes a lot of repetition while an American is growing up to inculcate this message into their young consciousness, and lots more repetition later on. Think of some of the lines from the song about racism from the Broadway classic show, “South Pacific” – “You’ve got to be taught” …

You’ve got to be taught
from year to year.
It’s got to be drummed
in your dear little ear.
You’ve got to be taught
before it’s too late.
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8.
To hate all the people
your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.