(JTA) — Jewish groups condemned Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for anti-Semitic attacks by government-controlled media on the opposition’s presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski.
The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in separate statements called on Chavez and his supporters to refrain from using anti-Semitism as a political tool.
Capriles, 39, the grandson of Holocaust surviviors, is governor of the Miranda state. Though Capriles’ maternal grandmother is Jewish, he was raised Catholic and he describes himself as a fervent Catholic.
A column published last week on the website of state-run Venezuela National Radio said Capriles "has a platform opposed to our national and independent interests" and called on citizens to reject "international Zionism" by re-electing Chavez. It also also accused Carpiles of involvement in a neo-Nazi group that promotes "the national Aryan race."
Chavez last week in a televised speech compared Capriles to a pig and accused him of hiding his ideological leanings.
In a letter to Chavez, Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Relations of the Wiesenthal Center, and Sergio Widder, the center’s director for Latin America, called on the Venezuelan leader "to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the elections date approaches" in April.
"Chavez is the only one in a position to stop these anti-Semitic attacks," Widder said. "His failure to respond effectively would be an endorsement and encouragement of racism.”
Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, said in a statement that Chavez and his government have used blatant and persistent anti-Semitism as a divisive political tool to scapegoat Jews.
"What we are seeing at the outset of Venezuela’s presidential elections is an attempt to cast the opposition candidate as a ‘traitorous Jew’ who is unworthy of the presidency and who, if elected, will subvert the interests of the Venezuelan people for the benefit of some mythic worldwide Zionist plot," Foxman said, adding that the early appearance of government-sanctioned anti-Semitism is a "deeply troubling sign of the depths that President Chavez is willing to go to retain his oppressive power."
Capriles previously was the target of anti-Semitic attacks. In 2009, pro-government supporters dressed in red surrounded the Governor’s House and painted swastikas on the yellow outer walls. During the governor’s race in 2008, government-aligned media described Capriles as a member of the “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie” and “genetically fascist.”