Chavez accuses Wiesenthal Ctr. of aiding US gov't

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday accused a US Jewish rights group of joining a Washington-backed smear campaign after it denounced him for making anti-Semitic remarks. Chavez, responding to The Simon Wiesenthal Center's demand for a public apology over alleged comments made during a Christmas Eve speech, called the accusations a lie. "It's part of the imperialist campaign," Chavez said in a nationally televised speech to congress. "It's part of the this political battle." On Friday, Forward, a New York-based Jewish daily, published excerpts from a letter written by Venezuelan Jewish leaders saying the center had misinterpreted Chavez's remarks. "You have interfered in the political status, in the security, and in the well-being of our community," the letter reportedly said. "You have acted on your own, without consulting us, on issues that you don't know or understand." Fred Pressner, president of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, was also quoted as saying that the community did not believe Chavez targeted Jews in his speech.