Israel joined countries in South America and Europe on Sunday, and recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president.
Choosing his words carefully and refraining from specifically referring to Guaidó as the country’s new leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in a video saying “Israel joins the United States, Canada, most of the countries of Latin America and countries in Europe in recognizing the new leadership in Venezuela.”
Guaidó welcomed the announcement on Twitter, writing that “74 years ago the Auschwitz extermination camp was liberated, and today, as our country fights for its independence, we are thankful for the support we received from the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Israel hasn’t had an embassy in the capital Caracas for 10 years. The last ambassador, Shlomo Cohen, was expelled in 2009 by then-President Hugo Chávez to protest what his regime called the Israeli government’s attack on Gaza. Ever since, despite diplomatic efforts and meetings between representatives of the country s Jewish community and Chávez and then his successor, Nicolás Maduro, diplomatic relations weren’t reinstated.
The moment Chávez ascended to power the Venezuelan government declared its support for the Palestinians and took every opportunity to condemn “the political crimes of the State of Israel.” With that, the Jewish community’s leadership chose to adopt an apolitical position so that the regime wouldn’t make life in the country too difficult.
In 1999, Venezuela’s Jewish community comprised some 30,000 people. Today, around 3,000 Jews remain in the country. Jewish community centers and synagogues need the government’s protection to function. Perhaps this explains Netanyahu’s decision to take a cautious approach in declaring his support for Guaidó on Sunday.
It is worth noting that Israel is the first country in the Middle East to recognize Guaidó, although this puts the Jewish community and its leaders there in an uncomfortable position. In a sign of possible rapprochement just last month, Maduro met with former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who visited the country.
Maduro: ‘No to flash elections’
Maduro, the incumbent president, refused calls from the international community on Sunday night to hold flash elections within eight days. The demand for quick elections came from Great Britain, Germany, France and Spain, which said they would recognize Guaidó’s presidency if Maduro fails to convene immediate elections.
Meanwhile, as the United States continues trying to convince other countries to recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president, Venezuela’s military attaché in Washington, Col. José Luis Silva, has already defected.
“Today, I speak to the people of Venezuela, and especially to my brothers in the armed forces of the nation, to recognize president Juan Guaidó as the only legitimate president,” Silva said in a video recorded at the embassy in Washington.
“The top brass of the military and the executive branch are holding the armed forces hostage. There are many, many who are unhappy. My message to the armed forces is, ‘Don’t mistreat your people.’ We were given arms to defend the sovereignty of our nation. They never, never trained us to say, ‘This is for you to attack your people, to defend the current government in power.’ ”
The government in Caracas, for its part, has taken steps to de-escalate tensions with Washington.
Maduro had issued American diplomats with an ultimatum to leave the country within three days, but on Sunday, his foreign ministry said it was postponing the expulsion of diplomats for 30 days. According to a statement, this would give the sides time to negotiate the establishment of an “American interests office” in Venezuela.