Israel-Germany row over minister’s NGO meeting
ISRAEL’S DIPLOMATIC relationship with Germany hit a low-point this week after Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an ultimatum to Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Foreign Minister, not to meet left-wing Israeli NGOs during a visit to Jerusalem.
Mr Netanyahu said he would call off a scheduled meeting with Mr Gabriel if he went ahead and met representatives of Breaking the Silence (BtS), the organisation which publishes experiences of Israeli soldiers, and human rights organisation B’Tselem.
When that meeting took place, the Israeli Prime Minister then cancelled his meeting with Mr Gabriel. Mr Gabriel said he had only learned of Mr Netanyahu’s ultimatum “from the media”. But Israeli government sources insisted the objections to Mr Gabriel meeting the NGOs had been aired well in advance of the visit.
The German minister then refused to speak to Mr Netanyahu on the phone after their meeting was cancelled.
Both parties insisted the episode would not harm relations between the countries.
Earlier this year, the German government announced that a joint cabinet meeting between Israeli and German ministers, to be chaired by Mr Netanyahu and Chancellor Angela Merkel would not take place due to “scheduling issues”. German sources said that the cancellation was due to the passage in the Knesset of the “authorisation law” on legalising settlements.
Despite Germany’s criticism of Israel’s settlement policy, and the tense personal relationship between Mr Netanyahu and Mrs Merkel, security ties between the countries are strong and Germany has agreed to finance a third of the cost of new, German-built warships for Israel’s navy.
The policy against meeting foreign leaders who meet BtS is new. Such meetings have taken place in the past but the first public objection from the Israeli government came in February, when the Belgian ambassador to Israel was reprimanded after the country’s prime minister met both groups.
“Netanyahu has moved the goalposts on this issue,” said a senior European diplomat in Israel. “In the past the government has voiced its displeasure in private.”