German Minister Says Social Democrats Were Holocaust Victims, Takes Flak

Mere days after spatting with Netanyahu, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel equates Social Democrats with Jews in Holocaust, irking Jewish community, and historians

German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel attends the debate about the European Union at the German parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Thursday, April 27, 2017.
German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel Markus Schreiber, AP

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has become embroiled in a new controversy that touches on Israel and the Jews, not a week after spatting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for insisting on meeting with left-wing groups in Israel. The new problem lies in an article Gabriel published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, in which he initially wrote that Social Democrats, the party he led until recently, had been among the first victims of the Holocaust along with the Jews.

The article outraged not only the German-Jewish community but historians as well.

In his article, Gabriel set out to describe the Social Democratic party's pro-Israel position throughout its history, and made the comparison that both Jews and the party had been among the first victims of the Holocaust. The Social Democrats suffered from political persecution, he elaborated, while the Jews suffered from racial persecution.

Indeed, the Social Democrats were among the first to be hounded by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933. Like the communists, Social Democrats were arrested and detained in concentration camps. But the term "the Holocaust" is normally reserved for the genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazis, not cases of political persecution by the Nazis.

German historians also expressed outrage. Historian Norbert Frei told the German press that Gabriel's choice of words were an embarrassment; anther, Wolfgang Wipperman categorically clarified that Social Democrats cannot be considered victims of the Holocaust.

Following the howls, the online version of Gabriel's article was amended, replacing the word "Holocaust" with "Nazis" – the Social Democrats were among the first victims of the Nazis. Which is perfectly true.

Last Tuesday, Netanyahu canceled his scheduled meeting with Gabriel after the latter refused Netanyahu's demand that he not meet with two leftwing NGOs, Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem. The premier's bureau stated that Netanyahu's "policy is not to meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet with organizations that slander IDF soldiers and seek to prosecute them as war criminals. It wouldn’t cross those diplomats' minds to meet in the U.S. or Britain with representatives of organizations that call to prosecute American or British soldiers."

Gabriel called the cancellation "regrettable" and argued that meeting with representatives of the two movements is "totally normal". "You never get the full picture of any state in the world if you just meet with figures in government ministries," Gabriel said.

In an interview with the German tabloid Bild, Netanyahu said that Gabriel's meeting with the left wing NGOs was insensitive. "I think it was a particularly insensitive time to seek a meeting like this. These are the days we mourn the murdered members of our people in the Holocaust and our fallen soldiers. The Israeli army is the one force that keeps our people safe today," Netanyahu said.