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Jewish groups decry 'anti-Semitic' Venezuelan state media article

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:25 PM EST, Sun February 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A state media article describes an opposition presidential candidate's Jewish heritage
  • ADL official: The article is "an attempt to cast the opposition candidate as a 'traitorous Jew'"
  • "We urge President Chavez to put an end to this campaign," the Simon Wiesenthal Center says
  • Venezuelan officials have not responded, but Chavez has condemned anti-Semitism in the past

(CNN) -- Two Jewish organizations are calling on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop what they say are anti-Semitic attacks by his government's media.

A Venezuelan state media article about Chavez's chief political challenger drew criticism from the New York-based Anti-Defamation League and the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center last week.

Titled, "The Enemy is Zionism," the Venezuelan National Radio column details opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski's Jewish heritage and says the governor of Miranda state "represents Israeli ideology covertly."

Capriles and Chavez, who has been Venezuela's president for 13 years, will face off in presidential elections in October.

"As we have witnessed in the past, blatant and persistent anti-Semitism is used by President Chavez and his government apparatus as a divisive political tool to scapegoat Jews," Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement Friday. "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."

Capriles, whose grandparents were Polish Holocaust survivors, is a practicing Catholic, the Wiesenthal Center said.

"We urge President Chavez to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the elections date approaches," Shimon Samuels, the center's director for international relations, said in a statement.

Venezuelan government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

A 2008 U.S. State Department report listed Venezuela among countries where leaders and governments "fan the flames of anti-Semitic hatred within their own societies and even beyond their borders."

"President Hugo Chavez has publicly demonized Israel and utilized stereotypes about Jewish financial influence and control, while Venezuela's government-sponsored mass media have become vehicles for anti-Semitic discourse," the report said.

But Chavez has condemned anti-Semitism and denied that his government was anti-Semitic.

"I have nothing against Jews. ... Nobody can say that the government here persecutes Jews," Chavez said after a meeting with Jewish leaders in September 2010, according to a statement on the Venezuelan foreign ministry's website at the time.

"I call on us to respect the Jewish community in Venezuela. ... They are Venezuelans," he said.

The column, published on the state broadcaster's website after the opposition candidate's sweeping primary victory last week, accuses Capriles of representing Zionism, "which threatens the destruction of the planet we inhabit."

Chavez did not author the column, but both Jewish organizations said it was the president's responsibility to put a stop to such attacks.

"We urge President Chavez and his supporters to refrain from using anti-Semitism as a political tool," Foxman said. "The Venezuelan political campaign has just begun, and this 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."

CNN's Osmary Hernandez in Caracas and Catherine E. Shoichet and Claudia Dominguez in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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