Anti-Semitic attacks on Chávez rival spark outcry

Thu, Feb 23, 2012, 00:00

AS HUGO Chávez heads to Cuba for another cancer operation this weekend, he leaves behind a growing controversy over anti-Semitic and homophobic comments made by supporters against his opponent in October’s presidential elections.

Henrique Capriles Radonski – whose Jewish grandparents fled the Nazis before settling in Venezuela – was accused by pro-Chávez media of representing “international Zionism, which threatens to destroy the planet” and running on “a platform opposed to our national and independent interests”.

An article on the website of Radio Nacional titled The Enemy is Zionismbased its accusation on a meeting Mr Capriles held with the main umbrella group for the country’s 12,000-strong Jewish community. Another pro-Chávez news magazine superimposed a Star of David on a picture of Mr Capriles.

The attacks were denounced by anti-Semitism campaigners. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre called on President Chávez “to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the elections date approaches”.

Mr Chávez has so far made no comment on the attacks, after earlier calling his opponent a “low-life pig”.

Mr Capriles, who describes himself as a “fervent Catholic”, has suffered anti-Semitic attacks before. During his successful campaign for the governorship of Miranda state in 2008 pro-Chávez media labelled him a member of the “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie”, while a year later swastikas were daubed on the walls of the governor’s official residence.

Gay rights campaigners have also criticised media insinuations that Mr Capriles is homosexual. Earlier this month a host on state-owned Venezuelan Television claimed he was arrested by police in 2000 for engaging in oral sex with another man in a car but had used his influence to get indecency charges dropped.

The show’s host claimed to have a police report of the incident but Mr Capriles has denied it ever took place. As the moderate face of a newly unified opposition, the 39-year-old Mr Capriles has emerged as the most serious electoral threat to Mr Chávez’s 13 years in power. The opposition hopes he can capitalise on anger at crime and inflation to defeat Mr Chávez in October’s ballot.