Georgia’s former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has come under fire for anti-Semitic comments that he made last week about the ruling Georgian Dream Party’s Israeli political strategist Moshe Klughaft.

Klughaft, who is known for employing smear campaigns, has been hired to help the party in the country’s upcoming presidential elections.

Saakashvili, who heads the main opposition United National Movement Party, called Klughaft a “dirty Jew” and accused him of “working for the Communists in Romania,” among other things.

Georgia’s government has provided Klughaft with security and afforded him the status of protected person since arriving in the country. Klughaft has said that for his part, he doesn’t intend to let the comments impact his work.

The local Jewish community condemned the remarks, with 40 community leaders signing a letter that noted “this is not the first time that Mikheil Saakashvili has used hate speech against Jews, and we therefore expect a response from political officials, the media and non-governmental organizations.”

The chairman of Georgia’s parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, said Saakashvili was in a “state of panic” now that Klughaft was in the country.

In a statement, the ruling party said Saakashvili “wouldn’t have dared to say such a thing about a Russian who was coming to work in Georgia. This [incident] is a continuation of the values of the party of Saakashvili, who during this election campaign has already made chauvinistic remarks, death threats and now anti-Semitism.”

Independent candidate Salome Zourabichvilli also condemned the statement.

“Anti-Semitism in all its forms should be condemned and never be tolerated in Georgia. They are absolutely unacceptable coming from the former president of this country,” said Zourabichvil. “Anti-Semitism has never been a feature of Georgian politics and should never become so. Georgia is known around the world and in Israel for not having experienced anti-Semitism for centuries. I consider those statements to be an insult to Georgia and to Georgian values.”

Having come under intense criticism, Saakashvili has since apologized for his remarks, saying he “respects the Jewish people.”

As president, Saakashvili worked to bolster Georgia-Israel ties, while still making the occasional anti-Semitic comment about Jewish figures in his own country.