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Wiesenthal Center slams Chavez "anti-Semitic" talk

Source Reuters

CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Prominent Jewish rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday of using what it said were anti-Semitic remarks and demanded an apology.

In a televised Christmas Eve speech, Chavez, a left-winger and a former soldier, said that "minorities, descendants of those who crucified Christ ... have grabbed all the wealth of the world for themselves."

Chavez, a Catholic, did not mention the Jewish people and in the same comments referred to the betrayal of Venezuelan liberation hero Simon Bolivar. But the group said his remarks represented central arguments of anti-Semitism -- accusing the Jews of killing Jesus Christ and associating them with wealth.

"Both elements have served as a perfect excuse to justify the most cruel persecution and killing during two millenniums," the Wiesenthal center said in a statement.

"Our center strongly condemns his anti-Semitic declarations. This insult to universal humanitarian values demands an immediate retraction and public apology," it said.

An official from Chavez' presidential palace said the government had no immediate comment.

The center's International Relations Director Shimon Samuels and its Latin America representative Sergio Widder also sent a letter to Chavez demanding an apology, according to the center's statement.

They said they would call on the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to suspend Venezuela's entry into the Mercosur trade bloc until Chavez apologizes.

The center said "the reactionary and medieval rhetoric" echoed that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who last month expressed doubt the extermination of Jews by the Nazis known as Holocaust occurred and suggested the Jewish state be moved to Europe.

Chavez, a vocal critic of Washington, has recently been fostering ties with Iran as he builds political and trade alliances as an alternative to U.S. influence.

The influential Simon Wiesenthal Center promotes tolerance and confronts issues like racism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and genocide. It also deals with the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, neo-Nazism, and hate on the Internet.

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