The chairperson of the South African branch of Israel’s right-wing Likud political party has risked the ire of the local community, with an op-ed in which he compares Archbishop Desmond Tutu to 20th century tyrants Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The comments from Likud SA’s Leon Reich have also provoked backlash from some sectors of the South African Jewish community.
The op-ed, which was published in the South African Jewish Report, reportedly describes Tutu as “the latest self-appointed midget of history”, whilst also accusing the world-renowned religious leader of working with Hamas to bring about the destruction of the Jewish state.
An unhappy Rina King, a spokesperson for the Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP), took to VOC’s Drivetime on Tuesday to express outrage at Reich’s statements, describing them as “completely out of line”.
“He argues that South Africa is a place where you have freedom of speech. But does that mean that you can malign and lie like he does?” she explained.
“It is shocking kind of speak from somebody who is supposedly a respected person from the Likud standpoint.”
Reich is reported to have reiterated the comments in an interview with top SA journalist, Tim Modise. He further accused Tutu of trying to attack local stores, in response to the icons support for the boycott of Israeli products. King described these allegations as completely ridiculous.
“As we know, boycott is the most effective and non-violent form of protest. So how can he possibly draw those parallels? It would mean that every anti-activist should be compared to Hitler,” she said.
The comments provide possible grounds for legal action to be taken over defamation of character. King said JVJP were looking into what could be done in that respect, insisting that they were certainly not going to let the comments slide.
With Reich representing Likud, which are part of the governing leadership in Israel, she questioned whether these statements were part of the view of the political organization itself.
“Is that how Likud thinks? Is that how they’re engaging in dialogue? That is very worrying for the future,” she said.