Venezuelan opposition leader appoints rabbi as envoy to Israel

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido announced he would appoint a Caracas rabbi as ambassador to Israel.

Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s interim president, arguing Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s inauguration for a second term was illegitimate, as the elections he won the previous year were widely rejected internationally for irregularities.

The United States, European Union and most Latin American countries subsequently recognised Guaido as Venezeula’s president, as did Israel, but his attempt to take control of the impoverished country has mostly fizzled.

At a National Assembly session in Caracas, Guaido proposed Rabbi Pynchas Brener as his envoy to Israel.

Brener, who is now rabbi emeritus of the Unión Israelita de Caracas, is a former chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Venezuela.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry did not comment on the appointment and it was unclear whether the envoy would take up residence in Israel.

Diplomatic ties between Israel and Venezuela were severed over the 2008-2009 Gaza war by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, a left-wing firebrand who like his successor Maduro was a harsh critic of the Jewish state.

Venezuela and Israel had strong bilateral relations since the Jewish state’s creation, and until 1980 Caracas maintained an embassy in Jerusalem. It was then relocated to Tel Aviv along with other diplomatic missions, and closed down in 2009.

Weeks after Israel recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, Maduro said his rival “serves the interests of the United States and the Zionists.”

While Venezuela once had one of the largest Jewish communities in the region, numbering some 25,000 in 1999, only about 6,000 Jews are believed to remain in the country, with many of the rest having fled to Israel, Canada, the US and elsewhere.

Venezuela’s chief rabbi Isaac Cohen said in February his community “accepts” Israel’s recognition of Guaido’s claim to power.

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