BERLIN - Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the German Social Democratic Party and a possible candidate for the Chancellorship of Germany, described on Wednesday Israel as an “Apartheid-Regime” on his Facebook site.
After a wave of protest notes on his Facebook page, Gabriel, who is currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories, continued to defend his terminology of Israel’s policies as racist.
“I was just in Hebron. That is a lawless territory there for Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification,” wrote Gabriel.
The Social Democratic chairman sought to meet with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and he appears to have abandoned German foreign policy regarding non-recognition of the terror group Hamas. Gabriel welcomed the inclusion of Hamas as partner in the political process in the Middle East.
Gabriel’s remarks triggered a wave of criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU), as well as leading Jewish NGOs.
In an email to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Philipp Missfelder, a deputy in the Bundestag and foreign policy spokesman for the CDU, wrote: "The fact that a German politician is using the term ‘Apartheid’ in connection with Israeli society is shameful. This is out of turn and reveals Mr. Gabriel's ignorance in foreign policy matters, especially when it comes to such complex issues such as the Middle East conflict."
Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Director for International Relations of the human right group the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post on Thursday, “Mr. Gabriel gets an F in History - German, South African and Israeli/Palestinian. The first is obvious. The SPD has hardly been on the side of the angels, adopting indiscriminately radical bad guys even if terrorist.”
Samuels continued: “Now it is ID theft of South African history taking apartheid as a loose catchword, diminishing its evil, just as the Holocaust is similarly abused. Indeed, Jews figured disproportionately in the anti-apartheid struggle, including many Israeli Jews. A real application of apartheid and ethnic cleansing took place in the 1929 Palestinian massacre of the Jews of Hebron who had resided there non-stop for 2000 years.
"The declared policy of President Abbas is Hebron without Jews, despite the Tomb of the Patriarchs and 3500 years of history.”
Samuels said that “Gabriel must apologize to Germans, South Africans and Israelis for his revisionism and bad politics.”
According to Samuels, Gabriel comparison of Israel with apartheid meets the EU’s definition of anti-Semitism as a “contributing factor to anti-Semitism.”
The head of the Berlin-based office of the American Jewish Committee , Deidre Berger, wrote the Post by email that "The comparison of Israel to an apartheid state is an incendiary historical falsehood that delegitimizes the state of Israel.”
She continued that "Statements that one-sidedly blame Israel for Palestinian aggression, while allowing the Palestinians to evade all responsibility for terrorism, repression, and human rights violations, can only result in setbacks to the peace process."
Berger added that the comparison of a democracy with extensive minority rights to a system of state-sponsored racism and oppression serve to foment a climate of hatred toward Germany's closest ally in the Mideast.
"Particularly at a time when the region is engulfed in turmoil, the consequences of scapegoating Israel can be severe. The only way to relaunch the peace process is for the Palestinians to stop stalling and sit down at the negotiating table," said Berger.
The 52-year-old politician, a former environmental minister in the former grand SPD-CDU coalition, is not known as a foreign policy expert. Traditionally, he has directed and formulated policy in connection with Germany’s labor market and domestic agenda.
In response to a Post email query on Thursday, Tobias Dünow, a spokesman for the SPD and Gabriel, wrote that Gabriel has many appointments today in Israel. Dünow wrote that Gabriel will try and respond on Thursday to the Post queries and criticisms of his statements.
Gabriel appeared to be defiant on Wednesday, writing that "it is clear to me that I used a very drastic formulation. But that is exactly what the Palestinians are experiencing in their situation in Hebron.”
Gregor Wettberg, the co-chairman of the Jewish Social Democratic group in Berlin-Brandenburg, wrote the Post “The choice of words from Sigmar Gabriel and their sloppy announcement on Facebook is inappropriate for the chairman of the SPD.” Wettberg, who is a member of the Berlin Jewish community, continued that the "the term 'Apartheid' evokes a false historic as well as factual comparison and serves popular resentments."
The General Secretary of the CDU, Hermann Gröhe, slammed Gabriel in the daily Die Welt on Thursday. Gröhe wrote “This comparison is a scandal and shameful for the chairman of a people’s party.” He added that Sigmar Gabriel "must apologize as fast as possible for his verbal blackout.”