Needless fight

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's decision to meet with NGO Breaking the Silence during his visit to Israel has triggered a needless diplomatic row between him and PM Netanyahu.

Sigmar Gabriel (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sigmar Gabriel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Needless fight During his visit to Israel to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited Yad Vashem and paid his respects to the six million Jews murdered in a genocide orchestrated and carried out by Germany’s Nazi regime.
Unfortunately, during his short visit Gabriel also decided to meet with representatives of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence – two NGOs that have rightly drawn fire in Israel for presenting discordant accounts of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
What motivated Gabriel to spend his precious time in Israel with representatives of these two NGOs – which garner infinitesimal support within Israel, have no significant political backing or representation and receive practically all of their funding from foreign sources – is beyond us.
Though the foreign minister has the right to meet with whomever he wishes, his choice sends out a problematic message.
This is the same Gabriel, a leader of the German Social Democratic party and a potential candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, who posted on his Facebook page in 2012 that Israel was an “apartheid regime” and called to include Hamas as part of the political process in the Middle East.
“I was just in Hebron. That is a lawless territory there for Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification,” wrote Gabriel on his Facebook page in 2012.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t need to cancel his meeting with Gabriel if the meeting with the two NGOs took place.
Allowing B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence to interfere with an important diplomatic meeting is counterproductive on a number of levels. First, it gives undue importance and publicity to two NGOs that use controversial methods to influence Israeli policies on the West Bank and Gaza.
Very few people would have heard about the meetings if Netanyahu had not made an issue of them. By being willing to cancel a high-level meeting that could potentially advance Israeli interests, Netanyahu was attributing far too much importance to two NGOs with practically no domestic support. Their power to interfere with Israeli diplomacy is disproportionate to the weakness of their arguments.
Germany’s relations with Israel under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel have improved significantly.
Today Germany, Europe’s strongest nation, is Israel’s best European ally, with close military and economic ties. Why allow Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem to get in the way? We understand the possible political considerations that motivated Netanyahu to threaten to cancel the meeting.
B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence provide useful political adversaries that can be used as a rallying point. And slighting a German foreign minister, particularly one on the record as referring to Israel as an apartheid state, is always considered a smart political move, particularly just one day after Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Israel’s foreign policy though should not be subordinate to such considerations. Nor are coercive methods the best way of convincing Gabriel to cancel his meeting with the two NGOs. Nobody likes being forced into a corner. Netanyahu should have instead used his meeting with Gabriel to explain what’s wrong with the two NGOs instead of canceling it.
Breaking the Silence is an organization that unfairly portrays IDF soldiers and officers as war criminals. Testimonies of soldiers who claimed to have witnessed or carried out crimes against Palestinians on the West Bank or in Gaza are presented as if this were official Israeli policy, when in reality these actions are explicitly prohibited. The organization doesn’t seem to want to work with the IDF to effect change and by exerting external pressure, is not bothered by the delegitimization it then causes Israel.
The IDF prosecutes soldiers like Elor Azaria who break IDF rules, not just to ensure that Israel continues to have the legitimacy in the eyes of the world to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism. The IDF strictly enforces ethical guidelines, because any breakdown in discipline undermines the very moral fabric of an armed force based on a people’s army; one that brings together soldiers from diverse social and political backgrounds who must serve together as a unified whole.
Canceling a meeting with the foreign minister of Germany, a nation that contributes much to Israel’s security and economic strength, is counterproductive. Two NGOs don’t deserve to be given so much attention and power.