IAF airstrike in Gaza
IAF airstrike in Gaza Reuters

South Africa’s ruling party on Thursday issued a statement in which it compared Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza to the actions of the Nazis during World War II.

The statement by the African National Congress (ANC) did not mention the rocket attacks from Gaza which led Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge.

“The African National Congress (ANC), condemns in the strongest terms, the barbaric attacks on the defenseless Palestinian people of Gaza,” said the statement by the party’s Deputy Secretary General, Jessie Duarte.

“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 it meaning,” said the statement.

“The state of Israel has turned the occupied territories of Palestine into permanent death camps,” charged Duarte, who added that “the killing of any child irrespective of race color or creed must be condemned.”

“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,” said the statement.

“The recent attacks must cease as well as the ongoing and illegal Israeli occupation and collective Israeli punishment of the Palestinians. Gaza is the world`s largest open air prison with over 1.5 million Palestinians caged in and cut off from the rest of the world,” claimed the statement.

“The Gaza Strip is the world’s most densely populated piece of land on this earth making the Israeli bombing of the Palestinian Gaza Strip all the more horrendous. The collective punishment and illegal siege of the Palestinian people of Gaza must immediately end,” said Duarte.

Local Jewish groups in South Africa reacted with anger to the ruling party's remarks and in particular to the comparison to the Nazis.

In a joint statement, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) said they “deplore and condemn in the strongest terms” the statement by Duarte.

“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 said.

“In the weeks leading up to the present unrest, not one word of condemnation has emanated from the ANC concerning the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Nor did the ANC see fit to condemn the escalating bombardment by Hamas of Israeli population centers that preceded the current Israeli military response and was the direct cause of it,” it added.

“Hundreds of deadly missiles have been and continue to be fired at Israel’s cities and towns. Not once in the statement issued in her name was Ms. Duarte able to even acknowledge this fact, let alone denounce it. This is so, despite the fact that hundreds of South African citizens, including school children, currently in Israel are being continually subjected to this lethal danger. Instead, her supposed moral outrage has been directed solely at Israel’s response, notwithstanding that its purpose is to defend its people against such criminal acts of aggression,” the two organizations said.

The two organizations added that they were “particularly appalled” over “the shameful comparisons made by Ms Duarte between Israel’s actions and the Nazi campaign of genocide against the Jewish people during World War II.”

“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,” they said.

“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. We believe that Duarte is well aware of this, but has chosen to make such a comparison for the purpose of causing the maximum hurt and offense. In doing so, she has dishonored the standing of the party of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, - a party that has consistently fought against racism and bigotry - as well as grossly insulting world Jewry and the memory of all the victims of Nazi tyranny,” the statement said.

The statement concluded with a demand that Duarte apologize “for the repugnant, highly offensive and untrue comments regarding the Nazi comparison.”

South Africa has continuously singled out Israel for criticism and has claimed that it is applying a policy of “apartheid” towards Palestinian Arabs. Last June, the former South African ambassador to Israel rejected a symbolic gift from the Israeli government, planting trees in his honor in a national park named after South Africa.

He explained that Israeli policies which, he claims, discriminate against Arabs appeared to be reminiscent of his experiences under South Africa's apartheid system.

Several months earlier, South Africa imposed new rules requiring that goods imported from Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem display special labels.

South Africa's Foreign Minister has in the past slammed Israel's plans to build new homes in Jerusalem, saying she was “losing sleep” over the size of “Palestine”.