Prominent Jewish groups urged President Hugo Chavez to prevent what they called anti-Semitic attacks on the opposition's presidential candidate by Venezuelan state media.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned a column that described the Jewish ancestry of opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski and labeled him a secret follower of Zionism, which it called "the most rotten sentiments represented by humanity."
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League also voiced concern: "Blatant and persistent anti-Semitism is used by President Chavez and his government apparatus as a divisive political tool," Abraham Foxman, the organization's director, said in a statement.
"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," Foxman said.
The column written by Adal Hernandez was posted on the website of state-run Radio Nacional de Venezuela on Monday.
Publication of the column came amid a wave of attacks on Capriles by Chavez and his allies after the state governor handily won Sunday's primary to represent the opposition against Chavez in the Oct. 7 presidential election.
Referring to Capriles in a televised speech Wednesday, Chavez likened Capriles to a pig and accused the opposition leader of concealing his ideological leanings and trying to mislead government supporters that he shares some of the president's left-leaning ideals.
"You are not going to be able to disguise yourself, even if you look for advisers, masks. Dress yourself up however you dress yourself up. Pig's tail, pig's ears, pig's nose: It's a pig," Chavez said, laughing along with pro-government lawmakers.
Chavez accused Capriles of representing the interests of Venezuela's wealthy elite. He called the opposition leader part of the South American country's bourgeoisie, warning government backers not to be deceived.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said that that its director of international relations, Shimon Samuels, sent a letter to Chavez asking him to prevent further anti-Semitic attacks against Capriles.
"We urge President Chavez to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the election date approaches," the letter states. "Chavez carries the ultimate responsibility for his own media outlets and can personally stop their hate-mongering."
Chavez has repeatedly denied allegations of tolerating or promoting anti-Semitism.