(JTA) --International Jewish groups expressed concern after an attack on a Caracas synagogue and blamed Hugo Chavez for creating an atmosphere of hate in Venezuela.
Up to 15 people attacked the Tiferet Israel Sephardic synagogue late Friday night, throwing Torah scrolls on the floor and damaging some, according to reports. They also painted epithets such as "death to the Jews" on the synagogue's walls.
The synagogue's guard had been held at gunpoint and was found on the floor of the building by members on Saturday morning, the Jerusalem Post reported.
It is not the first such attack on Jewish institutions in the country, which broke off diplomatic relations with Israel over the Gaza military operation, according to The New York Times. In response, Israel expelled the Venezuelan envoy and his embassy staff last week.
The same synagogue was vandalized early last month. The Israeli embassy was also vandalized. A Jewish community center was raided in 2007 in a search for illegal weapons. None were found.
The government of President Hugo Chavez decried the attack, the Times reported.
Chavez and local media have been increasingly critical of Israel in the past week.
"The total disrespect of a Jewish house of worship reflects the escalating climate of hostility towards Jews in Venezuela," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
Harris also said, "There are strong indications that what we are witnessing is a state-sponsored campaign of anti-Semitic persecution, spurred by both Venezuela's alliance with the Iranian regime and the surge of anti-Israel rhetoric during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas."
Harris called on the international community to declare its solidarity with Venezuela's Jewish community.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also blamed Chavez's demonization of Israel and the Jewish community as the catalyst for the synagogue attack and called on world leaders to denounce it.
"This was no mere hate crime from the margins of society, but a reflection of President Chavez's campaign to demonize Israel and her supporters,"said Rabbis Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean, and Abraham Cooper, its associate dean, in a statement. "It is frightening to watch the inevitable consequences of Iran's chief ally in the Americas promotion of hatred of the Jewish people escalate into an attack, more reminiscent of Nazi Germany in 1938, than a democracy in 2009. The fact that the members of this synagogue stayed away from services this Friday night out of fear that the anti-Israel campaign had generated says it all."
B'nai B'rith International has asked the U.S. State Department to investigate the attack.
"This has got to stop," said B'nai B'rith Executive Vice President Daniel Mariaschin. "It is unacceptable for a government to incite hatred. Chavez has cultivated an environment where his followers feel comfortable threatening Jews."
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Chavez to protect his country's Jewish community.
"Sadly, this is not a random event in Venezuela; it is directly related to the atmosphere of anti-Jewish intimidation promoted by President Chavez and his government apparatus," Foxman said.
Chavez, Foxman said, "must ensure that his government quickly brings the perpetrators to justice."
Internet Hate describes the rapidly expanding practice utilized by racists and extremists to place anti-Semitic, racist, and other hateful material on the World Wide Web. The growth of the Internet has enabled bigoted and sometimes violent messages to reach a much wider and broader audience than ever before. Consequently, these messages of hate have become widely accessible online - in homes, offices, schools, and libraries.
For years extremists have used printing of every kind -- books, pamphlets, posters, newspapers, magazines -- to get their message out. They have also tried to use modern inventions such as movies. radio, television, recorded audio and video tape and even telephone messages to spread their beliefs. So it is not surprising that they have decided to take their hate to the Internet. The Internet lets them reach millions with a click of a mouse.
Haters use the World Wide Web with its colorful web pages, sounds, and images to push propaganda attacking their enemies. Some of these pages suggest that violent action is needed. Old lies are reprinted and new ones are created. Neo-Nazi Skinheads try to sell the latest CDs filled with calls for "racial holy war."
It is fairly easy to create a simple Web page. Many bigots have. They often try to create the false impression that many people are involved in their activities. This frightens their targets and encourages supporters.
The number of racists and anti-Semites is small compared to the rest of the population; in addition, they are fairly spread out. Yet, on the Internet, they can find people who think like them, which strengthens their beliefs and makes them feel less isolate.
Because extremists on the Internet can hide their real identity behind screen names and addresses (like anyone else), they feel free to attack those they hate. They realize there is no way for anyone to know who they are.
This blog was created to shine a light on who these haters are, where they hang out on the web, and the methods they employ to try and intimidate their victims.