Israel an apartheid state, says German party head
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Sigmar Gabriel, the head of Germany's second largest party and a hopeful for Chancellor in the next federal election, last week called the Jewish state an "apartheid regime" after a visit to Hebron in the West Bank.
Writing on his Facebook page, the 52-year-old Social Democrat noted: "It's a zone without legal rights for Palestinians. It is an apartheid regime, and there's no justification for it." Mr Gabriel also called on Israel to negotiate with terror group Hamas.
The statement unleashed criticism from many quarters in Germany. Dieter Graumann, head of the Jewish community, said: "What Gabriel said is completely screwed up.
"It is morally imbalanced to call for negotiations with Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy Jews worldwide, and at the same time to denigrate Israel as an 'apartheid regime'."
In sharp contrast to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's non-recognition of Hamas, Mr Gabriel sought to visit the terror group in Gaza, but he could not gain access because of rocket fire into Israel from militant Islamic groups.
Rising public criticism appears to have prompted Mr Gabriel to ask Israel's Ambassador to Germany, Yaakov Hadas-Handelsman, as well as Mr Graumann, for meetings in order to clear the air.
Philipp Missfelder, a deputy in the Bundestag and foreign policy spokesman for Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said: "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."
Shimon Samuels, the British-born antisemitism expert from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, commented: "Mr Gabriel gets an F in History - German, South African and Israeli/Palestinian."
Mr Samuels added: "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."