German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier won’t meet with the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence during his four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“I am happy to hear that the president decided not to meet with representatives of Breaking the Silence,” minister-without-portfolio Ayoub Kara told the media before greeting Steinmeier upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Saturday night.
In advance of the visit, the Germany Embassy said the president wanted to “deepen” the special friendship between the two countries.
"The good relations between the two nations is important to both sides and they have to be strengthened for the benefit of future generations," Kara told Steinmeier at the airport.
Upon his arrival, the German president headed to a local pub and graffiti art tour of Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda Market with President Reuven Rivlin.
Steinmeier’s visit comes in the wake of a highly contentious one last month by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Gabriel after learning that he planned to meet with Breaking the Silence.
Germany has contributed money to the group and its leaders have met with the group and other left-wing NGOs in the past. Netanyahu took issue with the meeting because Breaking the Silence speaks out about alleged human rights violations by IDF soldiers and its material is used by the PA as part of its diplomatic warfare against the Jewish state.
No such public dispute is expected during this visit, since a meeting with the group was never on Steinmeier’s schedule. The Foreign Ministry said Israel had not made any demand with regard to that issue. Other diplomatic sources said German officials do not necessarily meet with Breaking the Silence every time they come to Israel.
A source in Steinmeier’s office said the president would “meet with several important civil society representatives, such as [authors] Amos Oz and David Grossman, but not with representatives of certain organizations.” The source added that the German president wanted to distance himself from critical voices within Israel.
But the issue of Breaking the Silence is not the only subject that has created tensions between the two strong allies; Israel was angry because it feared Germany’s behind the scenes diplomatic actions in Paris might weaken opposition to the UNESCO Executive Board resolution on Jerusalem.
In the end, however, Germany was among six EU member states on the 58-member board that stood with the Jewish state and opposed the resolution last week that disavowed Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Also, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been highly critical of accelerated Israeli settlement activity this winter and canceled a government-to-government meeting between the two countries that was supposed to take place in May.
This is Steinmeier’s first visit to Israel since becoming president in March, though he visited while serving as the country’s foreign minister.
On Sunday, he is expected to visit the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery and Yad Vashem, hold meetings with Rivlin and Netanyahu, and address students at Hebrew University. Netanyahu and his wife will host him for a dinner in their home.
On Monday, he will leave Jerusalem to visit the arts center in the Jewish-Arab community of Givat Haviva and then head to Herzliya for a technology presentation followed by a meeting with Holocaust survivors in Tel Aviv.
On Monday night, he will speak with opposition chairman Isaac Herzog and before leaving, he will visit Ramallah.