Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, known for his close relationship with Iran and 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 Gaza flotilla incident, Chavez shouted,“Damn you, State of Israel!” During Israel’s fall 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, he 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 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 in Venezuela, 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.