Did a German diplomat's comment about Israeli 'apartheid' cross a line?

“If one speaks of Israel as an apartheid state, then that objectively crosses a line; for that, I have no understanding,” Central Council of Jews in Germany head Josef Schuster told a Berlin paper.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visits the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24, 2017 (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visits the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24, 2017
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)
BERLIN – The Central Council of Jews in Germany slammed on Friday Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for describing Israel’s policies as an “apartheid regime,” suggesting that the top diplomat’s remark crosses a line from legitimate criticism into antisemitism.
“If one speaks of Israel as an apartheid state, then that objectively crosses a line; for that, I have no understanding,” Central Council of Jews in Germany head Josef Schuster told the Berliner Zeitung when asked whether “it is legitimate for the current foreign minister to criticize Israel’s government?”
Schuster was responding to Berliner Zeitung reporter Kordula Doerfler's question on whether it was legitimate for the foreign minister to criticize the Israeli government.
The reporter has previously asked Schuster where the line is drawn - if he would draw a line at all - between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
Schuster suggested that, based on Gabriel's comments in the interview, the foreign minister's comment that Israel practices apartheid indicates at least a hint of antisemitism.
Multiple Post media queries to Katharina Ziegler, a German foreign ministry spokeswoman, were not immediately returned.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told The Jerusalem Post earlier this month that Gabriel's statement that Israel is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa is "not only totally false, but it also delegitimizes and demonizes the Jewish state. The line between such delegitimization and antisemitism is very thin. It is no surprise that Hamas, an antisemitic organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, happily tweeted the statement. All those interested in promoting peace and opposing hatred in the region must reject such an outrageous comparison."
Activists from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which Schuster has termed antisemitic, frequently claim Israel is an apartheid state.
Erdan's criticism of Gabriel comes after outrage over the fact that the foreign minister's words are now being utilized by a terror organization for propaganda purposes.
In response to a January Post article on Gabriel's statement, Hamas wrote on its official English Twitter, "German FM describes the Israeli occupation as an apartheid regime like the one was in South Africa."
Gabriel told the crowd at a December event in Berlin hosted by the Kreuzberger Initiative Against Antisemitism that he had previously criticized Israel. The chief diplomat has towed this line since at least 2012, when he posted a message on Facebook following his visit to Hebron, in which he wrote: “I was just in Hebron. There’s a legal vacuum there for Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification.”
The Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported that one of the attendees at the December meeting said "rather than talk about the Palestinians' suffering under [Israeli] occupation, Germany focuses on alleged antisemitism among its youth."
Gabriel responded: "That's not true. The German government immediately expressed criticism over Trump's decision and we reserve the right to criticize the policies of the Israeli government."
Gabriel also cited his visit to Hebron at the meeting and his parallel to the apartheid regime. He appeared to use his apartheid remark as a fair way to properly criticize Israel.
The December meeting was planned as a response to combat growing contemporary antisemitism. In December, following US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital,large anti-Israel demonstrations, filled with antisemitic slogans, broke out across Berlin to protest the US declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Uwe Becker, the Christian Democratic Union party deputy mayor of Frankfurt, told the Post that Gabriel made a "new blunder, which even brought him praise from the terror organization Hamas." He added that Gabriel's conduct toward the Jewish state has "damaged important German-Israeli relations."
Becker said Gabriel's attacks on Israel can be explained by his social democratic party's closeness to the Palestinian Fatah party. The SPD outlined in a strategic paper the alliance between the social democrats and Fatah. Becker said the strategic document emphasized the "joint values" and "strategic partnership" of the German social democrats and Fatah. Becker said Gabriel is not fulfilling  his role as Germany's foreign minister because of his failure to separate his party's pro-Fatah position from the German-Israeli relationship and his role as foreign minister.
The Merkel administration declined to comment on Gabriel's remark that Israeli policies are comparable to apartheid.
Gabriel and the foreign ministry appeared to double down on his statement that Israeli policies are the equivalence of the now-defunct apartheid regime. Malca Goldstein-Wolf, a prominent German-Jewish activist, sent a public letter to Gabriel in December urging him to apologize for his apartheid remark. Gabriel responded to Goldstein-Wolf on January 8, stating that "the fight against every form of antisemitism...is, for me, a top priority."
Goldstein-Wolf expressed anger that Gabriel did not take her letter as a citizen seriously." I am requesting again that you  at least issue a statement on your false apartheid comparison with Israel," wrote Goldstein-Wolf. Gabriel did not respond.
In a separate Friday interview with Israel Hayom, Schuster said: "The German side would be wise to be more careful in selecting who they speak to in Israel. Two weeks after Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's memorable visit [in which a meeting with the prime minister of Israel was canceled over Gabriel's insistence on meeting with groups that slander the IDF], German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived, and himself met with organizations and bodies that are critical of the [Israeli] government. The difference was that they were all focused on a clear, practical objective: to work toward peace, not against the government. To support organizations with a constructive approach would be better than supporting groups that are destructive."