AACHEN – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reiterated his description of Israeli policies in the territories as embodying the former apartheid regime in South Africa, prompting fierce criticism on Friday from Jewish human-rights organizations and a leading German Jewish activist.
“There are two central narratives to Jewish history in the 20th century – the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. Sigmar Gabriel has already tried to undermine the core of each of them,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post.
“By falsely claiming that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ he denies its democratic basis, which is a central tenet of Israeli statehood since its establishment, and legitimizes unjust attacks on the Jewish state for sins committed on a regular basis by all its neighbors but not by Israel,” he said.
Zuroff, the organization’s chief Nazi hunter, added, “In the past Gabriel claimed that Social Democrats suffered the same fate as Jews during the Third Reich, a ridiculous assertion with no basis in fact, that undermines the uniqueness of the Holocaust and falsely relativizes the uniquely horrific fate of European Jewry at the hands of the Nazis and their helpers.”
Gabriel attended a meeting of Muslim migrants in mid-December to combat antisemitism, after the outbreak of protests where Israeli flags were burned in response to the US declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital
. While discussing criticism of Israel, he told them that his visit to Hebron in the territories several years ago reminded him of “what was seen during apartheid.”
On December 14, The Berliner Zeitung
first reported Gabriel’s renewed comparison of Israel to the former racist state of South Africa at the meeting of the Kreuzberger Initiative against Antisemitism.
Gabriel previously called Israel an “apartheid regime” in 2012 during his visit to Israel.
Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee Office in Berlin, told the Post
that “When Sigmar Gabriel accused Israel of apartheid in 2012 after visiting Hebron, there was a justified storm of outrage. Eventually, he apologized. However, the sincerity of his apology is unclear if he repeated the accusation of apartheid, as recently reported, during a well-publicized meeting with young Palestinians in Berlin. If true, the comparison violates his own comment in 2012 that use of the word ‘apartheid’ is drastic and an unjust comparison to the apartheid regime of South Africa.”
Berger added: “Indeed, such exaggerated criticism of Israel undermines declarations made by Minister Gabriel himself recently on his Facebook page that antisemitism violates the German constitution and the basic principles of our civilization. Any comparison of the State of Israel with the apartheid regime of South Africa dilutes the message of Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security, and can all too easily fuel the flames of antisemitism.
“As we saw frequently in 2014, and again during dozens of recent anti-Israel demonstrations in Germany, the lines between criticism of Israel and antisemitism blur quickly, with consequences for the security of Jewish life in Germany,” she said. “Now, more than ever, it is important that Foreign Minister Gabriel emphasize the critical importance to German post-WWII democracy of German-Israeli relations, in addition to forcefully condemning antisemitism.”
Olga Deutsch, head of the European desk for the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told the Post
that: “This is exactly the type of language we see being adopted directly from reports and statements of various Palestinian human rights organizations. It is misleading and completely counterproductive.
“The German foreign minister should live up to the strategic character of the bilateral relations between Germany and Israel and promote dialogue, inclusion and consensus over basic issues such as condemnation of antisemitism, incitement to violence and terror,” she said. “Instead he repeats the very phrases of the NGOs, many of which are also funded by the German government, that manipulate the facts and the entire discourse.”
The German Foreign Ministry told the Post
that “Gabriel spoke openly and in detail about his personal struggle against antisemitism at his meeting at the Kreuzberger Initiative against Antisemitism.”
The ministry said Gabriel sent a clear message against antisemitism and that “antisemitism has no place in Germany.” The German foreign ministry said Gabriel supports the definition of antisemitism outlined by the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance.
A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel
told the Post
that: “We won’t comment on this statement [Apartheid comparison].”
The spokesman said addressing antisemitism is a societal responsibility. “Germany’s government takes its responsibility in this sector very seriously, and decisively confronts antisemitism,” he said.
German deputies and members of the Israeli Knesset called on Merkel’s government in June to outlaw the lethal, antisemitic and terrorist organizations Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). But Merkel’s interior Minister Thomas de Maizière declined to ban the terrorist entities. The US, Israel, the Arab League, Canada and the Netherlands classify all of Hezbollah as a terrorist group, not just its military wing. The EU and the US proscribed the PFLP as a terrorist organization.
The German Jewish activist Malca Goldstein-Wolf, whose petition campaign against the alleged antisemitism of singer Roger Waters caused German TV stations to drop broadcasts of his slated 2018 concert, urged Gabriel to take back his Israel-hatred statement.
In an online petition that has received over 1,700 signatures, she urged Gabriel “not to stoke antisemitism but to fight it.”
The petition calls on Gabriel to publicly apologize for defaming Israel “with the lie” of apartheid. Her petition outlined the growing Jew-hatred in Germany, causing some Jews to stop wearing kippot on the streets.