German Chancellor Candidate Calls Israel an ‘Apartheid Regime’
5:14 PM, Mar 15, 2012 • By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
“I was just in Hebron,” SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, now visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories, wrote on his Facebook page. “There’s a legal vacuum there for Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification.”
Gabriel sought to visit Hamas in Gaza, but the ongoing rocket attacks and Israeli retaliations have deterred him. According to an article in the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, Gabriel called for talks with its leaders. He is an energetic supporter of bypassing talks with the Israel in order to establish a Palestinian state, in sharp contrast to Chancellor Merkel’s rejection of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the U.N
Gabriel, who may well win the chancellorship in 2013, is popular among liberal Germans. His statements represent an extreme anti-Israel and anti-American ideology that has become increasingly prevalent in his party. In 2010, former SPD chancellor Helmut Schmidt signed a petition urging the European Union to sanction Israel for its policies regarding settlements.
The conservative parliamentary deputy and Christian Democratic Union foreign policy spokesman Philipp Missfelder issued a terse response to Gabriel: “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.”
Hermann Gröhe, general secretary of the CDU, also slammed Gabriel in the daily Die Welt, decrying his remarks as “a scandal and shameful for the chairman of a people’s party,” and calling on him to issue a public apology.
Gabriel remained defiant. Yesterday, on Facebook, he wrote 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.”
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.