South Africa's chief rabbi has condemned Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor for saying that Israel is "implementing apartheid" in its treatment of Palestinians. Pandor made the comparison to South Africa's past oppressive system of racial segregation during a meeting of the Palestinian Heads of Mission in Africa, held in Pretoria.
Wearing a traditional Palestinian scarf, Pandor reiterated South Africa's steadfast commitment to the Palestinian cause, comparing it to the 20th century struggle against white minority rule in South Africa.
"For many South Africans, the narrative of the Palestinian people's struggle does evoke experiences of our own history of racial segregation and oppression," she said.
Pandor said Israel was continuing to "occupy Palestine in complete defiance of its international obligations and relevant resolutions of the U.N.," and that it was "implementing apartheid."
For his part, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki thanked South Africa for its support, also drawing parallels with the former apartheid government.
"We came here because every time we need support and encouragement, we look for reference; we come to the origin of the struggle for liberation, for independence, against colonization, here in South Africa," Malki said.
Contacted by VOA, the Israeli embassy in Pretoria said it would get back with a comment on Pandor's remarks, but no statement has been made by either the embassy or the Foreign Ministry in Israel.
South Africa's chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, slammed Pandor's comments as "factually, politically, morally repugnant."
"They are views which are a defamation of the Jewish state and an insult to the victims of the real apartheid, because if everything's apartheid, nothing is apartheid," he said.
He added that the minister's comments "betrayed" South Africa's constitution.
"Israel is the only democracy in the region, and the South African government's support for tyrannies in China, Russia and Iran mean that it does not have the moral credibility to level accusations such as this," Goldstein said.
Steven Gruzd, analyst from the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, said since the start of democracy in 1994, the South African government had strongly supported the Palestinian cause. While it maintains diplomatic relations with Israel, he noted, they are "not warm."
He said the accusation Israel is an apartheid state was particularly strong, coming from South Africa.
"When the foreign minister of a country calls another country out for apartheid and that first country is South Africa, it will make people stand up and take notice," Gruzd said.
Gruzd said he expected Israel and its chief ally the United States to condemn Pandor's remarks.