Israel to issue protest after Belgian PM meets left-wing groups
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Israel to issue protest after Belgian PM meets left-wing groups

Charles Michel talks with leaders of Breaking the Silence, considered by Israeli prime minister 'hostile' to the country

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel speaks during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, February 7, 2017. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel speaks during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, February 7, 2017. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

Israel will issue a formal protest after Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Wednesday met with the heads of two prominent left-wing organizations — despite a personal request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop supporting Israeli groups he considers damaging to the country.

“The government of Belgium needs to decide if it wants to change direction or continue with its anti-Israel path,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said, noting that the Belgian ambassador would be summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday for a dressing down.

Michel, who is on an official visit to the country, met with the leaders of two prominent left-wing organizations: Breaking the Silence; and the human rights watchdog B’Tselem.

“Israel views with utmost gravity Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel’s meeting today with the leaders of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, during his visit to Israel. Initiatives are underway by the Belgian state prosecutor to try senior Israelis including Tzipi Livni and IDF officers,” the statement said.

Breaking the Silence is a controversial rights outfit that collects testimonies from former Israel Defense Forces soldiers about alleged human rights violations they witness in the Palestinian territories during their military service.

During the meeting, Michel discussed with the two groups Israel’s policies in the West Bank, Channel 10 reported.

The meeting came the day after Michel held talks with Netanyahu in which he was asked not to fund organizations that Netanyahu described as anti-Israel or harmful to Israeli soldiers.

During the meeting between the two leaders in Jerusalem, Netanyahu “demanded the Belgian government stop funding organizations that act against IDF soldiers and the State of Israel, including transferring funds indirectly,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) holds a joint press conference with his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Although the statement didn’t list Breaking the Silence, it came after Netanyahu asked British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday to halt funding for what he called nonprofit organizations that are “hostile to Israel.” May was set to conduct a “reexamination” of Britain’s approach to funding NGOs, Netanyahu told reporters accompanying him on an official visit to the UK.

“I gave them [the British] the [names of] the various NGOs that the government of Britain funds, among them Breaking the Silence, and I asked her to stop funding them,” Netanyahu said.

Breaking the Silence has often locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass and its numerous critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.

Last month a bill that would prevent Breaking the Silence from holding events in high schools passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset.

Amid intense public debate over the legitimacy of left-wing NGOs operating in Israel, the proposed legislation is primarily directed at the Breaking the Silence organization, but would give the education minister the power to ban all groups “that work to damage the IDF” from entering any academic institutions.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled the new draft legislation in December after three high school principals ignored his guidelines on prohibiting the organization from speaking to students.

The bill must still pass three more readings in the Knesset before becoming law and will progress to the Education Committee for debate.

During his trip to the Jewish state, Michel also met with President Reuven Rivlin and young Belgians living in Israel. He also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

AFP contributed to this report.

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