(photo credit: REUTERS)
German Foreign and Vice Chancellor Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s move to pick a fight with Benjamin Netanyahu come as no surprise to longterm observers of Gabriel and his Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) explicit pivot toward Fatah and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Netanyahu told Gabriel he was not prepared to meet with him if he went ahead with meetings with organizations (i.e. Breaking the Silence) that seek to delegitimize the Jewish state and the IDF.
Gabriel refused to pull the plug on his meetings and the row mushroomed into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.
“Gabriel’s deliberate uproar” was the title of Alex Feuerherdt’s article on the website of the Mena Watch think tank. Feuerherdt, a journalist and expert in German-Israel relations, hammered away at the SPD’s growing anti-Israel tendencies and the largely monolithic media and political criticism in Germany of Netanyahu’s cancellation.
He noted the double standard in Germany: There was not a bleep of protest over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to punish Israel for construction of buildings in the disputed territories by canceling her May trip to Israel, noted Feuerherdt.
Gabriel is, of course, no stranger to slashing language that assaults Israel’s raison d’être, namely, political Zionism.
He termed Israel’s presence in Hebron an “apartheid regime.” His partisan views are clearly written on the wall. For Gabriel, Mahmoud Abbas is a “friend’ and his SPD party declared itself to be in a “strategic partnership” with Abbas’s Fatah party.
Moreover, the SPD hosted a Breaking the Silence exhibit in 2012 at the party’s Willy Brandt headquarters in Berlin.
The current president of Germany, the Social Democrat’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, waxed lyrical about the Breaking the Silence, a group that uses anonymous testimonies to claim Israel’s army commits war crimes.
All of this helps to explain why Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, rejected just days ago a German mediation role (i.e, Gabriel) in the Israel-PLO conflict.
The chairman and candidate for chancellor of the Social Democratic Party, Martin Schulz, described Abbas’s speech to the European Parliament last year as “stimulating.”
During the June 2016 speech, Abbas accused Israeli rabbis of urging the government to poison Palestinian water. The New York Times wrote at the time that Abbas’s claim about lethally contaminating water used by the Palestinians echoed “antisemitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times.”
Gabriel has scarce experience in the Middle East. The vice chancellor – his party sits in a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party – is a hardcore economic nationalist who prioritizes his country’s business interests over historical responsibility toward the Jewish people.
He rushed to Iran with a large business delegation just days after the nuclear accord was reached in July 2015.
Gabriel appears to not have met with any organizations critical of the Islamic Republic while in Tehran. He dashed off to Iran again in 2016 with another business group.
Gabriel’s predecessor, Steinmeier, tagged Netanyahu as “very coarse” for his piercing criticism of the Iran nuclear deal. As a result of the atomic pact, German companies are expected to secure a multi-billion dollar windfall from trade deals with the mullah regime.
And key leaders within the Social Democrats have been frothing at the mouth over Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear weapons deal and over Netanyahu’s opposition to concessions to the Palestinians.
As the former economic affairs minister and current foreign minister, Gabriel has not stopped German taxpayer funds from going to the Palestinian Authority, and likely going to convicted Palestinian terrorists and their families.
The German government has provided millions of euros to NGOs in the West Bank, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and Israel that are engaged in political warfare against Israel, according to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said “German funding to organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence is a small part of the problem; the government also provides money to radical organizations that delegitimize the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality. This controversy [over Gabriel’s visit] is an opportunity to hold a serious dialogue between elected officials to solve the problems arising from the paralleled European links with Israeli political groups and NGOs.”
The shift of the Social Democrats toward the PLO and Iran’s regime will continue to be a source of friction between Israel and Germany.
The likely continuation of the current SPD coalition with Merkel after this fall’s election will keep the diplomatic tension high for the German government’s next five-year term.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.