Tel Aviv – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Germany when he refused to meet on Tuesday with the European country’s visiting foreign minister in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu canceled the scheduled meeting with Sigmar Gabriel, as the latter announced that he would meet with rights groups that criticize Israel’s practices against the Palestinians.
Senior officials at the Israeli premiership said that Netanyahu has warned Gabriel that he would cancel the scheduled encounter, should the foreign minister goes ahead with meeting the Israeli groups “Breaking the Silence” and “B’Tselem”.
“Breaking the Silence” is a non-government organization that publishes testimonies of Israeli veterans to shed light on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. “B’Tselem” is a non-profit that documents human rights abuses in occupied territories.
Gabriel arrived on Monday in Israel, where he joined events marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. He was due to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials during his trip.
In an interview with German television network ZDF, Gabriel said it was “totally normal” to meet with groups from civil society such as “Breaking the Silence.” And he added that “it wouldn’t be a catastrophe” if he did not meet Netanyahu, who also holds the portfolio of foreign minister.
The German foreign minister met on Tuesday with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who said following the meeting: “Israel and Germany never had a simple relationship, and we never will.”
“In recent years however, our relationship has become a truly deep and positive one,” he added.
It is noteworthy that the Israeli foreign ministry has summoned two months ago the Belgian ambassador over a meeting conducted by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel with representatives of “Breaking the Silence” during his three-day visit to Israel.