Venezuela leader: Officials treated like Jews under Nazis

FILE - In this April 19, 2017 file photo, human rights activists protest the current situation in Venezuela outside the World Court, Un

FILE - In this April 19, 2017 file photo, Venezuelans protest, holding signs that say in Spanish "No more deaths, and "No more dictator

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's embattled socialist president likened the sour reception many of his government's officials are receiving abroad to the harassment of Jews in Nazi Germany, provoking outrage Tuesday from the small Jewish community that remains in this troubled South American nation.

In a state broadcast Tuesday night, President Nicolas Maduro criticized Venezuelan expatriates who have been yelling at Venezuelan officials in other countries, or who use social media to post photos of officials living it up abroad while the country struggles with triple-digit inflation and food shortages.

"We are the Jews of the 21st century," Maduro declared.

He also suggested the anti-government protests that have convulsed the nation for six weeks are similar to the rallies presided over by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The president's administration often characterizes the political opposition as "fascists" trying to stage a coup.

His comment drew strong criticism from the leaders of the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela, which represents the nation's Jewish community. In a statement, the group expressed "absolute repudiation" of any attempt to equate recent events with the persecution endured by Jews in Nazi Germany.

"That episode in the history of humanity, which cost 6 million Jews their lives, among them 1.5 million children, is unique and incomparable," it said.

Any comparison with the protests that are aimed at Venezuelan officials during trips abroad contributes to a revisionist campaign seeking to nullify the horrors Jews endured, the confederation added.

Venezuela once had a Jewish community that numbered about 25,000 people, but leaders say more than half have fled amid economic and political insecurity. Jews also faced incidents of hostility as the late President Hugo Chavez led campaigns against Israel, accusing the Israeli government of genocide against the Palestinians. In 2009, the largest synagogue in Caracas was vandalized.