South Africa’s ruling party compares Gaza op to Nazi crimes

Local Jewish community demands apology after ANC claims Israel turning Palestinian areas into ‘permanent death camps’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A man walks past an election poster of Jacob Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) party in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday, May 9, 2014. (AP/Ben Curtis)
A man walks past an election poster of Jacob Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) party in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday, May 9, 2014. (AP/Ben Curtis)

South African’s ruling party issued an extremely harsh statement on Operation Protective Edge Thursday, comparing Israel’s actions with those of Nazi Germany and accusing Jerusalem of turning the Palestinian territories into “permanent death camps.”

The local Jewish community immediately condemned the statement as “obscene” and “venomous” and demanded a retraction and apology.

“The African National Congress (ANC) condemns in the strongest terms the barbaric attacks on the defenseless Palestinian people of Gaza,” the party’s deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, wrote in a statement. “As we move towards the month of August and are reminded of [t]he atrocities of Nazi Germany, surely we must ask the people of Israel has the term ‘lest we forget’ lost it[s] meaning.”

The statement, which contained more than a few factual inaccuracies, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, went on to list how many Palestinians were killed, wounded and “traumatized” during Israel’s current operation in Gaza. “The State of Israel,” Duarte wrote, “has turned the occupied territories of Palestine into permanent death camps.”

She did not refer in any way to rockets fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza.

“Of course the killing of any child irrespective of race color or creed must be condemned and the death of two Israeli young people is surely as senseless as any other death,” she continued, apparently referring to the killing of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel last month. “But 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.”

Israel’s “horrendous” attack on Gaza will further isolate Israel in the international community, Duarte warned. “Apartheid South Africa’s wanton killing of our people during the 1980s lead to its isolation, it would seem that Israel is taking a similar path of isolation by embarking on these attacks.”

Mere hours after the ANC’s statement was issued, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the country’s Zionist Federation put out a joint press release condemning Duarte’s words.

“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 statement read. The groups said they were “particularly appalled over the shameful comparisons” between Israel’s actions and the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people.

“Comparisons between Israel and the Nazi regime are obscene, not only because they are so grossly defamatory towards the Jewish State but because they belittle the unspeakable crimes of Nazism itself. It is self-evident that casualties resulting from a necessary and unavoidable military operation — casualties that Israel goes to considerable lengths to minimize — cannot be remotely equated with the systematic mass murder of millions solely on account of their being Jewish.”

Duarte is well aware of this but chose to make such a comparison anyway, “for the purpose of causing the maximum hurt and offense,” the statement charged. In doing so, she was “grossly insulting world Jewry and the memory of all the victims of Nazi tyranny.”

The joint statement also took Duarte to task for failing to mention the hundreds of rockets fired at Israel in recent days and weeks.

“It is unacceptable in any decent, democratic society for a responsible political organization to propagate such venom and bigotry, let alone a party that has been entrusted with the reins of government,” the statement continued.

The two most important Jewish organizations in South Africa called on the ANC to distance itself from Duarte’s “repugnant comments” and to apologize to the country’s Jewish community.

On May 7, the ANC won 62 percent of the vote in national elections.

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