Venezuelan opposition leader appoints rabbi as envoy to Israel
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Venezuelan opposition leader appoints rabbi as envoy to Israel

Juan Guaido, recognized by Netanyahu as Venezuela’s legitimate president, looks to restore ties with Jerusalem even as Maduro remains in power in Caracas

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido takes part in a legislative session at the National Assembly in Caracas on August 13, 2019. (Federico Parra/AFP)
Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido takes part in a legislative session at the National Assembly in Caracas on August 13, 2019. (Federico Parra/AFP)

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

Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in January, 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 recognized 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 Tuesday, Guaido proposed Rabbi Pynchas Brener as his envoy to Israel, according to the Spanish-language Aurora weekly.

Pope Francis talks with Rabbi Pynchas Brener, former chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Venezuela, during a private audience in the pontiff’s studio, at the Vatican, February 16, 2015. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, Pool)

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.

In a February interview with the Israel Hayom daily, Guaido said he would work to restore ties between the countries and didn’t rule out relocating the Venezuelan embassy to Jerusalem.

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.

Jerusalem was reportedly hesitant to throw its backing behind Guaido amid concerns the Maduro regime would respond with measures that could imperil members of the Venezuelan Jewish community.

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

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during the “No more Trump” march to protest US sanctions in Caracas on August 10, 2019. (Federico Parra/AFP)

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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