Johannesburg - South Africa’s chief rabbi Warren Goldstein has slammed ANC deputy secretary-general Jesse Duarte for comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, and challenged her to a public debate.
Commenting on the Gaza conflict in a statement issued to the media late on Thursday, Duarte said: “As we move towards the month of August and are reminded of the atrocities of Nazi Germany, surely we must ask the people of Israel: has the term ‘lest we forget’ lost its meaning?”
The statement was also posted on the ANC’s website.
Goldstein, who is currently in Israel and responded on his website, said parts of Duarte’s statement were “abhorrent and beyond the pale of civilised discourse”.
Duarte said Israel had “turned the occupied territories of Palestine into permanent death camps”.
She referred to Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison with more than 1.5 million Palestinians caged in and cut off from the rest of the world”.
“For the State of Israel, the notion of an eye for an eye has become perpetual massacre, with merciless revenge which has lasted for more than 60 years. It is time to stop the killing now,” she said.
In response, Goldstein labelled her statement a “hate-filled outburst”.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation had earlier condemned Duarte’s statement.
“Such naked invective is something one expects to find only on the more extreme wing of the anti-Israel lobby; coming from our country’s ruling party, it is nothing short of disgraceful,” the groups said.
According to reports, more than 120 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed since Israel started its offensive on Tuesday, in response to rockets fired at its cities.
Goldstein said it was “grotesquely untrue” to compare the offensive to Nazi Germany.
“The Nazi Holocaust is history’s greatest crime, meticulously detailed by the criminal regime that planned and executed over 6 million Jews,” he said.
“She must be held accountable for her morally repugnant words, which have brought the ANC into disrepute.”
Duarte’s statement has already made the news in Israel.
The English language Times of Israel ran a story titled “South Africa’s ruling party compares Gaza op to Nazi crimes”.
“ANC comparison of Israel to Nazis riles South African Jews,” wrote the Jerusalem Post.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation issued its own statement on Friday, possibly to clarify the South African government’s position.
In it, spokesman Clayson Monyela criticised both the “endless wanton killing of Palestinian civilians” and “the increasing number of rockets targeted at Israeli cities”.
“We strongly urge all sides to refrain from responding to violence with violence, and to exercise restraint, including a halt to the... use of collective punishment on Palestinians,” he said.