'Totally insensitive': Israel fires back at Germany over cancelled meeting
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Bild newspaper on Friday that German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was "totally insensitive" to meet rights groups on a recent trip to Israel.
Netanyahu cancelled a meeting with Gabriel on short notice on Tuesday after the German minister refused to cancel his own plans to meet representatives of the rights groups Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem.
"Foreign diplomats are welcome to meet with civil society activists and members of the opposition and anyone else they'd like," Netanyahu told Bild.
"But my red line is that I will not meet diplomats who come to Israel and lend legitimacy to fringe radical groups that falsely accuse our soldiers of war crimes and undermine Israeli security," he added.
“Breaking the Silence isn’t a human rights organisation. The want to criminalize Israeli soldiers.”
Breaking the Silence is an organization run by ex-combatants in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) which encourages soldiers to confidentially talk about their experiences in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Despite criticism from the government, the group has been praised by retired IDF generals for "strengthening the IDF and its morality."
But for Netanyahu, Gabriel's round table with the organizations represented an affront to Israeli history.
“I think it was completely insensitive to have such a meeting at this point in time,” the Israeli PM said, explaining that the meeting took place shortly after Holocaust memorial day.
"These are the days we mourn the murdered members of our people in the Holocaust and our fallen soldiers. The Israeli army is the one force that keeps our people safe today," he said.
Netanyahu claimed that he attempted to call Gabriel to explain his point of view after cancelling the meeting, but that the German Foreign Minister rebuffed him.
“I hope that Gabriel meets with me on his next visit to Israel instead of with a radical fringe group which undermines Israel’s security.”
Tensions between Berlin and Tel Aviv have been simmering over recent months as Israel has pressed on with settlement building in the Palestinian territories despite repeated warnings from world powers that it would harm any prospects of peace.
Germany considers the settlements, built outside the internationally recognized borders of Israel, to be an affront to international law.
Right after the Knesset (Israeli parliament) approved a new law legalizing dozens of Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank, the German foreign ministry openly voiced doubts for the first time in January about whether Netanyahu intended to respect his pledge for a two-state solution.
A month later, Angela Merkel's government cancelled an annual consultation with Israel which had been planned for May in Jerusalem.
Ostensibly, the reason was a diary problem, yet the message was clear.