SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — An Islamic leader’s comments that Israel’s invasion of Gaza was worse than the Holocaust has severely strained Jewish-Muslim relations in Australia.
Ikebal Patel, the chair of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, made the allegation last month and has refused to withdraw his comments despite demands by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
In a Feb. 2 letter, the Executive Council’s president, Robert Goot, said if the remarks were not withdrawn “publicly and unequivocally,” the Jewish community would be unable to work with the Islamic community.
Goot also took umbrage at a montage of dozens of photos comparing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews attached to Patel’s Jan. 27 letter.
“No matter how you seek to twist and distort the facts, there is simply no parallel in history to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews in systematic mass executions [and] the mass transportation of millions of Jews to purpose-built death camps,” he wrote.
On Jan. 5, during Israel’s operation in Gaza, Patel issued a statement saying the “victims of the Holocaust [are] now perpetrating much worse atrocities against the Palestinians.”
Following a Jan. 13 letter by Goot, which described the remarks as “obscene” and “contemptible,” Patel responded on Jan. 27 by saying that the Israel Defense Forces’ invasion of Gaza “justified our comparison of the atrocities and the brutal use of disproportionate force by Israel.”
Meanwhile, Sheik Tajeddin al-Hilaly, the imam of Australia’s largest mosque, made similar comments to Patel’s on Feb. 5.
“When we remember the atrocities of the Holocaust, it seems that what we are seeing is another Holocaust,” Hilaly was quoted as saying in The Australian newspaper.
“It is not just about numbers of people killed — thousands as opposed to millions — but the atrocity itself, and here we have similar atrocities,” the imam said.