Netanyahu Cancels Meeting After German FM Refuses to Snub Israeli Leftist NGOs

Netanyahu won't meet with diplomats who meet with groups that slander IDF soldiers, his bureau says; Sigmar Gabriel refuses to take PM's call after demand he cancel meeting with anti-occupation groups

President Reuven Rivlin (right) shakes hands with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 25, 2017.
President Reuven Rivlin (right) shakes hands with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 25, 2017. Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday after the latter refused Netanyahu's demand that he not meet with two leftwing NGOs, Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem.

According to Der Spiegel, the meeting was canceled by Netanyahu because the German minister wanted "to meet with critics of the Israeli government."

>> By giving ultimatum to German FM, Netanyahu raises leftists NGOs to his status | Analysis <<

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 2016.
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Sources within the Prime Minister's Office confirmed that the meeting, set for 5 P.M., will not take place. The prime minister's bureau issued a statement regarding Netanyahu's refusal to meet with Gabriel.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy is not to meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet with organizations that slander IDF soldiers and seek to prosecute them as war criminals," it said. "It wouldn’t cross those diplomats' minds to meet in the U.S. or Britain with representatives of organizations that call to prosecute American or British soldiers."

"The IDF and its soldiers are the basis of our existence," it added. "The relations with Germany are very important to Israel and they will continue."

Netanyahu asked to speak with Gabriel on Tuesday afternoon, but the German foreign minister refused to take his call.

Sources in the prime minister's bureau said that Netanyahu wanted to speak with Gabriel to personally explain why he had reservations regarding the latter's meeting with Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem and why he decided not to meet with him.

Speaking later during a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Gabriel said: "You can absolutely be sure we are committed to the friendship, the partnership and the special relationship with Israel and nothing will change this."

Earlier Tuesday the Gabriel reposnded to Netanyahu's ultimatum, saying it would be "regrettable" if the latter decides to cancel their meeting because of his meeting with representatives of left-wing Israeli organizations.

Gabriel, who arrived in Israel on Monday (Israel and Germany celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2015), told German TV network ZDF that his planned meetings with representatives of B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence are "totally normal."

Gabriel said he had only learned of Netanyahu's threat from the media and noted it would be "inconceivable" for the German minister to cancel a meeting with the Israeli leader if the latter met with figures critical of the German government. He nevertheless said "it wouldn't be a catastrophe" if their meeting is canceled, and that it wouldn't change his ties with Israel.

"You never get the full picture of any state in the world if you just meet with figures in government ministries," he said.

Gabriel later met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah and told reporters he hopes he will be able to meet with both Netanyahu and the left-wing groups on Tuesday.

Senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu issued an ultimatum to Gabriel, saying that if the latter does not cancel his meetings with the left-wing groups, the prime minister won’t meet with him. The ultimatum was first reported by Israel Channel 2 News.