(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and the media attention it received simply helped Gabriel’s image.
While President Reuven Rivlin usually follows the government line on foreign policy, he made an exception this time and received Gabriel with special warmth, which was documented for posterity by a battery of photographers and cameramen there for the occasion.
Netanyahu canceled the meeting because he objected to Gabriel’s plan to meet with representatives of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.
When asked why the president ran contrary to the prime minister, a spokesman for Rivlin said such meetings were set by the Foreign Ministry and not by the President’s Bureau. That made the meeting somewhat strange, as the prime minister is also the foreign minister, which suggests that Netanyahu gave his approval to a meeting that he would not approve for himself.
All foreign dignitaries enjoy a warm welcome at the President’s Residence, but the one for Gabriel was particularly effusive.
Almost as if to contrast the chilly rejection that preceded it, the greeting featured large German flags arranged alongside a red carpet that ran past a jasmine-scented garden to the main hall.
Rivlin enjoys a close relationship with former German president Joachim Gauck and invited him to speak in Israel at one of the closing Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies. Gabriel was treated in much the same manner.
While Israel and Germany never had – or will have – a simple relationship, he said, in recent years the relationship has become deep and positive and that he looked forward to discussing ways to expand that cooperation in the fields of security, counter-terrorism, academia, science, innovation and trade.
Rivlin also mentioned renewable green energy, a topic of importance to Gabriel, Germany’s minister of the environment until January of this year, and formerly is federal minister for economic affairs and energy.
Gabriel said his arrival the previous day had reminded him of the special responsibility Germany bears to support those who survived the Holocaust in a safe and secure Israel, and for Germans to remember that “there should always be a special support for the Jewish community.”
Gabriel – who has been to Israel at least 20 times and said he visited Yad Vashem during most of those visits – had a father who admired Nazis until his dying day and has a daughter whose maternal grandparents were Jewish and murdered in Auschwitz.
Rivlin told his guest that Israel was used to receiving criticism from time to time, after the issue of the canceled meeting was raised. But said such criticism needed to be based on reality, and called the IDF “the most moral army in the world.”
Rivlin also mentioned the intensification of antisemitism in Europe, including Germany, and echoed Gabriel’s earlier comments about the duty of German society to support the Jewish community.
Gabriel reaffirming Germany’s friendship, partnership and special relationship with Israel by pledging “nothing will change that.”