President Reuven Rivlin hosted his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on Saturday night for a tour of Jerusalem’s famed Mahane Yehuda Market.
The outdoor market, dotted with produce stands, bakeries and small eateries serving cuisine from dozens of different countries and cultures, has in recent years seen a trend toward upscale restaurants, student-packed bars and other nightlife, as well as the graffiti of celebrated artist Solomon Souza.
Steinmeier reportedly asked for the tour before arriving in Israel on Saturday night at the start of a three-day trip, and arrived at the market soon after landing.
The presidents walked through the market, whose fruit and vegetable stalls were mostly shuttered, allowing an unobstructed view of the many graffiti murals that adorn the stalls’ aluminium blinds, part of the Shuk Gallery exhibit by Souza.
The two presidents, accompanied by Steinmeier’s wife Elke Büdenbender, drank a beer at one late-night pub catering to younger crowds and met with locals.
It is Steinmeier’s first visit to Israel since taking up the post in March, although he has made the trip before while serving as foreign minister.
His office said he would meet Netanyahu on Sunday. On Monday he will call on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank.
The visit follows just days after a row between Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last month, Netanyahu canceled a planned meeting with Gabriel after the latter refused to cancel a sit-down with the Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence, which is widely criticized in Israel, publishes anonymous testimonies of former combat soldiers alleging human rights violations by Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaz. Gabriel also met with B’Tselem, another group that deals with human rights issues and campaigns against Israeli settlement building.
Steinmeier is not expected to meet with Breaking the Silence. But according to a report on Spiegel Online, he will make a point of stressing the importance of civil society organizations for the country’s democracy during a speech Sunday evening at the Hebrew University.
Citing anonymous sources close to the president, Germany’s leading online news site reported that Steinmeier will say that groups such as Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem should not be viewed as treasonous but rather as making Israel’s democracy stronger.
During Netanyahu’s standoff with Gabriel, the prime minister’s office said: “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.”
Relations between Israel and Germany have been frosty recently. Earlier this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel postponed bilateral government consultations originally planned for May 10, citing scheduling difficulties ahead of national elections in September. However, she did find time to host Abbas last month.
In private conversations, German and Israeli officials acknowledged that Merkel’s cancellation was due to her frustration over Israeli legislation to retroactively authorize illegal West Bank outposts.
Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.