By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Two prominent U.S.-based Jewish organizations condemned on Friday as anti-Semitism a wave of verbal and written attacks by President Hugo Chavez's supporters against Venezuela's opposition leader.
Henrique Capriles, the grandson of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, has faced a barrage of insults since winning the Democratic Unity coalition's presidential candidacy on Sunday. One that caused particular outrage was a profile by a state radio commentator entitled "The Enemy is Zionism."
The full gamut of attacks, though, has ranged from Chavez calling him a "pig" to a prominent TV commentator accusing him of being caught in a car having sex with another man.
With official after official lining up to condemn Capriles as a flagbearer of the "bourgeoisie" and "Yankee imperialism," some Chavez supporters have even been circulating a cartoon of him in pink underwear with a Nazi Swastika on his arm.
Capriles, who is a Catholic, has kept quiet about the vitriol against him, saying he only wants to fight the problems that really bother Venezuelans such as crime and unemployment.
He is seeking to unseat Chavez in an Oct. 7 election that is shaping into the biggest challenge to the socialist leader's 13-year rule of the South American OPEC member.
Opposition sympathizers are fuming at the vitriol aimed at Capriles, and two U.S.-based groups have sprung to his defense.
"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," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"What we are seeing at the outset of Venezuela's presidential elections is an attempt to cast the opposition candidate as a 'traitorous Jew' 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."
Capriles often speaks movingly about his grandmother's time in hiding and escape from the Warsaw ghetto. His maternal grandparents, called the Radonskis, moved to Venezuela after World War Two and began a cinema business that is now a thriving enterprise. Some relatives died in Nazi extermination camps.
"They have even called me a Nazi - how ignorant is that?" Capriles said on the campaign trail before his landslide win at a weekend primary vote.
The 39-year-old governor of Miranda state wears a wooden rosary round his neck and headed to a Catholic shrine on Margarita island to give thanks straight after his primary win.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization named after a famous Nazi hunter, sent a letter complaining about the article on the Web site of Venezuela's state radio.
"We urge President Chavez to put an end to this campaign that will surely become more threatening as the elections date approaches. Chavez carries the ultimate responsibility for his own media outlets and can personally stop their hatemongering," it said.
"Chavez is the only one in a position to stop these anti-Semitic attacks. His failure to respond effectively would be an endorsement and encouragement of racism."
Government officials were not immediately available to respond to the accusations of anti-Semitism.
In the past, Chavez has denied accusations of discrimination against Jews living in Venezuela despite his fiercely anti-Israel geopolitical outlook.
Commentator Adal Hernandez's article on Venezuela's National Radio website - bearing the logo of the Information Ministry - opens by describing Capriles' grandparents' Jewish lineage.
After accusing him of "fascist" and CIA links, the journalist concludes: "In October, there are two clear proposals for Venezuela: the Bolivarian Revolution defending the unity of Latin American and interests of the people, or international Zionism, threatening the destruction of our planet." (Editing by Diego Ore and Anthony Boadle)