Asked to choose between Netanyahu and anti-Israel organizations that call IDF soldiers “war criminals,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel chose to meet with the latter, saying that a cancellation of his meeting with Netanyahu would not be a “catastrophe.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his meeting with Germany’s foreign minister, who insisted on meeting with two extreme-left groups that are critical of Israel.
A senior Israeli official confirmed that Netanyahu told Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel that he would scrap their appointment, scheduled for Tuesday, if the German dignitary met with members of non-governmental organizations Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.
Responding to the ultimatum, Gabriel described the encounter with anti-Israel organizations while in Israel as “completely normal.”
Gabriel said it would be “unthinkable” to cancel meetings if Netanyahu met government critics in Germany. But he said a cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting would not be a “catastrophe.”
“You can’t get a proper and comprehensive picture in any country on Earth if you only meet in government offices,” Gabriel said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely supported Netanyahu’s decision.
“I back the prime minister’s decision to lay down a red line concerning anti-Israel organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. This is an important campaign against those who defame Israel around the world,” she said.
A source at the Prime Minister’s office told Israel’s Channel 2, “Israel lays down a clear policy, despite its close ties with Germany — with the aim of preventing the erosion caused by meetings between European representatives and these organizations.”
Gabriel arrived in Israel on Monday to participate in Holocaust Memorial Day events and meet with local leaders. Visiting on Yom Hashoah, he said, “reminds us of the special relationship and special responsibility not just today but in the future to a secure and safe Israel, to support the country which is the country of those who survived the Holocaust.”
After the cancellation was confirmed, Gabriel told President Reuven Rivlin that Germany was “committed to the friendship, partnership, and special relationship with Israel, and nothing will change that.”
Breaking the Silence, an anti-Israel organization is comprised of veteran IDF combatants who have served since the start of the Second Intifada and are ostensibly committed “to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.”
They are financed by foreign bodies and countries, including Germany.
While claiming that their goal is to “raise awareness over the everyday reality of serving in the [so-called] occupied territories and to create a discussion about the cost of military control over a civilian population for so many years,” the NGO refuses to post the names of the soldiers who testify.
They have also refused to pass along their accounts to the IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Corps for investigation, despite repeated requests by senior IDF officials. Instead, Breaking the Silence members routinely go abroad to spread their allegations instead of taking their complaints directly to the IDF or civilian courts.
B’tselem is supposedly a human-rights organization known to publish propaganda against the Jewish state and the IDF.
In February, the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel used his state visit in Israel to meet with organizations that operate against the Jewish state. Israel was swift to react and Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s foreign minister, instructed the Ministry to reprimand Belgian Ambassador to Israel Olivier Belle.
Israel views the incident “with utmost gravity,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “The Belgian government needs to decide whether it wants to change direction or continue with an anti-Israel line.”
Calling US and British Soldiers ‘War Criminals’
Following the meeting’s cancellation, Netanyahu issued the following statement:
“Imagine if foreign diplomats visiting the United States or Britain met with NGOs that call American or British soldiers war criminals. Leaders of those countries would surely not accept this. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy is not to meet foreign visitors who, on diplomatic trips to Israel, meet with groups that slander IDF soldiers as war criminals. Diplomats are welcome to meet with representatives of civil society but Prime Minister Netanyahu will not meet with those who lend legitimacy to organizations that call for the criminalization of Israeli soldiers. Our relations with Germany are very important and they will not be affected by this.”
By: United with Israel Staff
AP contributed to this report.
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