Netanyahu threatens to boycott German minister if he meets rights groups
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Netanyahu threatens to boycott German minister if he meets rights groups

FM Sigmar Gabriel, visiting Israel, must choose between talks with B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence or PM, Israeli official says

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visits the Hall of Remembrance, where the names of major death and concentration camps are written, during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visits the Hall of Remembrance, where the names of major death and concentration camps are written, during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)

Israeli officials on Monday warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would boycott a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel if he meets with two controversial Israeli rights groups during his current visit to the country.

Gabriel arrived in Israel earlier in the day to participate in Holocaust Remembrance Day events and was set to hold talks with Netanyahu on Tuesday.

He is also slated to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials over nascent peace efforts.

During his time in Israel, the German minister also planned to meet publicly with two prominent left-wing Israeli rights organizations, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, both of which have been accused by the government in the past of working to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by lobbying international forums.

Netanyahu’s bureau “clarified” that the meetings are contrary to government policy and indicated that the German minister must choose between convening with Netanyahu or the rights groups, according to a Monday report by Channel 2 news. Netanyahu also serves as foreign minister.

An Israeli official confirmed the report to The Times of Israel.

“This message was clearly conveyed to the Germans,” the official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on April 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Amir Cohen)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on April 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Amir Cohen)

A source told the television station that “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.”

The German embassy in Israel did not immediately respond to media inquiries about the situation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Twitter she supported Netayahu’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.”

Channel 2 suggested that a lesser official from Gabriel’s entourage might meet with B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence instead.

Earlier on Monday, Gabriel laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem — The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem. Gabriel’s visit to Israel came as the country commemorated the six million Jews murdered by the German Nazi regime during the Holocaust and World War II.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, right, and German Ambassador to Israel, Clemens von Goetze, lay a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, right, and German Ambassador to Israel, Clemens von Goetze, lay a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)

He also visited Jordan, where he called for fresh peace talks.

“Waiting too long will open up a new field of play to the terror organizations of this world,” he said, according to Deutsche Welle. “If we neglect this conflict, it could cause a new series of violence in the region of a kind we have not yet seen in the past few years.”

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank.

Last October the NGO’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, called for the United Nations to take action against Jewish settlements in the West Bank, telling a special session of the Security Council that Israel was creating facts on the ground in advance of any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Breaking the Silence collects reports, usually anonymously, from IDF veterans about alleged abuses by soldiers in the West Bank. It has often locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass and its critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.

In February, Belgium’s ambassador to Israel Olivier Belle was summoned for a dressing down in the Foreign Ministry over a meeting by his country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, with representatives of the two NGOs.

Michel met with the heads of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, despite a direct appeal by Netanyahu to Belgium to end its support to groups he considers damaging to the country.

Amid intense public debate over the legitimacy of left-wing NGOs operating in Israel, Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem have been the target of Knesset legislation aimed at curbing their political activity.

A bill that would prevent left-wing groups from holding events at Israeli schools passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset earlier this year.

The legislation is primarily directed at Breaking the Silence, but would give Education Minister Naftali Bennett the power to ban all groups “that work to damage the IDF” from entering any academic institutions.

Last June, the Knesset approved the so-called “NGO Law,” obligating certain nonprofit groups — including Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem — to declare all their foreign funding.

In December, a bill that would ban national service volunteers from working with Israeli organizations that receive the majority of their funding from abroad — namely left-wing human rights groups — overwhelmingly passed its preliminary Knesset vote in December.

The legislation enjoys coalition support and is expected to pass the additional readings.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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