TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not meet with Germany’s foreign minister on Tuesday after a spat over Sigmar Gabriel’s planned meetings with leftwing groups critical of the IDF.
Reuters, citing Germany’s DPA news agency, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Online and other German media reported that Netanyahu had canceled the talks, a move Gabriel said earlier would be “regrettable.”
“It’s difficult for me to imagine that the meeting will be canceled, because this would be very regrettable,” he said, noting it would be “exceptional” if Netanyahu were to shun a meeting with him.
“In no country in the world can you get a reasonable and comprehensive impression if you only meet with government representatives. You have to meet, as we did yesterday, with writers, with artists and students, and also with critical organizations,” he said in an interview with Germany’s ZDF television.
The German foreign minister was scheduled to meet B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO that collects anonymous testimonies from Israeli soldiers about alleged human rights abuses towards Palestinians. BTS receives much of its funding from the EU and European countries.
Gabriel admitted that both BTS and B’Tselem are organizations that are very critical of Israel’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
“These are topics of the daily political news circle on which we need to form a political view. Therefore I find it totally normal to talk to them. I can’t imagine that we would stop doing this in the future only so we could meet with government officials.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not issue an official comment on the incident.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely praised Netanyahu for not surrendering to “anti-Israel” organizations, saying, “This is a battle against those who slander Israel in the world.”
Opposition leader Issac Herzog, with whom Gabriel is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, slammed Netanyahu’s decision.
“Netanyahu has fled the field. The ultimatum to the German Foreign Ministry is a serious blow to Israel’s ties with a country that has the largest economy in Europe and is a true friend,” Herzog said.
Gabriel was in the country to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and advance peace efforts.
On Monday, Gabriel visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and took the opportunity to reflect on Germany’s sordid past in the museum’s guest book, calling the Holocaust an “unparalleled crime against humanity.”
“On this occasion I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms the historic responsibility that Germany bears for the Holocaust and the crimes of the Second World War and that guides our conduct today,” he wrote.
Earlier on Tuesday, he met with Palestinian officials including PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah. He also met with Ir Amim, another left-wing Israeli group. Later in the day, he met with President Reuven Rivlin.