Left-wing Israel groups pledged to defy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to continue their battle against the “occupation” after they met on Tuesday night in Herzliya with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
“Civil society will not take orders or succumb to pressure. We will go on opposing the injustices of the occupation until it becomes a thing of the past,” three Left-wing groups B’Tselem, Peace Now and Breaking the Silence said in a statement.
Although Germany is one of Israel’s closest European allies, Netanyahu canceled his meeting with Gabriel, that had been set for Tuesday, to protest the NGO meeting.
Netanyahu explained that he had set a new policy
by which he would no longer meet in Israel with visiting dignitaries who on the same trip met with groups that slander Israeli soldiers.
“My policy is clear: not to meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet with organizations that defame IDF soldiers and try to prosecute our soldiers as war criminals, which diplomats would never consider doing in the United States, Britain or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said.
“Our soldiers are the basis of our existence. They are guarding us, and we will protect them,” said Netanyahu.
Sources have said his comments were aimed specifically at the group Breaking the Silence. Its members are former Israeli soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza and now criticize Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.
Breaking the Silence executive director Yuli Novak said, “Just when I thought I had seen everything, the last 48-hours surprised me.”
She spoke at a Meretz Party event on human rights that same night. She told the audience that Netanyahu’s conduct was so much worse than that of “a bull in a china shop,” that in this situation that adage could be considered a compliment.
Anat Ben Nun of Peace Now, who was in the Gabriel meeting, told The Jerusalem Post
she felt Netanyahu’s words implicated other Israeli NGO’s including hers.
“It’s a scare tactic. It’s easier for him [Netanyahu] to go after a specific group at a time,” she said. “It’s a way to shrink the democratic space by delegitimizing anyone who opposes government policies,” she said.
Visiting foreign dignitaries from Western countries have traditionally met with civil society representatives while visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Until this winter, Netanyahu has not made a public issue over those meetings. In March Peace Now briefed about Israeli settlement activity during a West Bank visit by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson without garnering public rebuke from Netanyahu.
Until now, Israel has only had a two-fold requirement for visiting dignitaries. They can not meet with Hamas. Travel to the Palestinian territories to meet with Palestinian Authority officials must be accompanied by meetings with Israelis.
The first sign of Netanyahu’s new policy, began in February when Israel reprimanded Belgium after discovering that it’s Prime Minister Charles Michel had met with Breaking the Silence during a visit to Israel.
All three of the groups — Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and Peace Now — publish reports against Israeli actions over the pre-1967 lines that have been distributed to European and United States officials and to the United Nations.
Representatives from Peace Now and B’Tselem testified in the fall at a special United Nations Security Council Arria-Formula meeting in New York against West Bank settlement activity.
In their Tuesday night statement, the NGOs said, “Whether addressing the Israeli public or the international community, our message is the same: as Israelis, we cannot allow the 50-year-old occupation and its attendant human rights violations to carry on.
“The Israeli prime minister and most of his colleagues in both the coalition and opposition parties have no intention of ending the occupation. “Therefore, firm determination and resolve by the international community is essential to making it clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that his actions on the other side of the Green Line, i.e., beyond Israel’s sovereign borders, quite simply cross the line,” the groups said.
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