The Unacceptable Behavior of Germany’s Foreign Minister
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel displayed unprecedented chutzpah and insensitivity during his official visit to Israel to participate in ceremonies on Holocaust Memorial Day.
During his trip, meant to honor victims of the Nazi horrors, Gabriel scheduled meetings with organizations that accuse Israel of engaging in war crimes. Principal among these is Breaking the Silence (BtS), which virtually all sectors of the Israeli political mainstream have condemned — not because they oppose or campaign against the government, but because they are a primarily foreign-sponsored fringe entity engaged in a global campaign to depict the IDF as war criminals.
They are not a “left wing” group. They are vicious self-hating Jews.
BtS keeps it “sources” — primarily anonymous — confidential. The organization does not investigate or verify their findings with the IDF, which examines and prosecutes all irregularities brought to its attention. Instead, BtS sends its emissaries abroad to undermine Israel’s image. There has even been public debate in recent months about the merits of introducing Knesset legislation to curb BtS’ global smear campaigns.
For the foreign minister of Germany to meet with such a group, especially during this sensitive visit, illustrates the depths to which some German leaders have sunk. Gabriel is a leader of the German Social Democratic Party, and no doubt feels that his anti-Israeli posturing may attract left-inclined voters who despise the Jewish state. It is probably no coincidence that during one of his election campaigns, Gabriel referred to Israel in a Facebook post as an “apartheid regime for which there is no justification.”
Gabriel was disingenuous when he refused to cancel the meeting, regarding it as “totally normal.” Instead, he explained that “you never get the full picture of any state in the world if you just meet with figures in government ministries.” He said it was his obligation to also hear alternative viewpoints.
Nobody questions the foreign minister’s right to talk to all sectors of the public, including those deeply opposed to the government — such as the far-left and Arab representatives. But one must draw the line between a foreign minister meeting those with opposing viewpoints, and a fringe organization like BtS, which has been almost universally condemned as a subversive group.
Gabriel defended his actions by saying: “Imagine if the Israeli prime minister…came to Germany and wanted to meet people critical of the government, and we said that is not possible. That would be unthinkable”.
But that does not work. BtS is not critical of the government; instead, it is seeking to undermine the essence of Israel’s security. How would Germany’s Chancellor Merkel have reacted if — on a state visit — Prime Minister Netanyahu arranged for a meeting with representatives of a group extolling the virtues of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang, or a foreign-sponsored fringe group despised by Germans of all political persuasion for depicting Germany’s military as war criminals? Gabriel’s analogy is even weaker when one takes account of the fact that Israel is under siege, and its very existence is challenged by some of its neighbors, whilst Germany faces no such threat.
Gabriel was utterly unfazed by Netanyahu threatening to cancel their planned meeting. Instead, Gabriel noted that failing to meet the prime minister would not be a “catastrophe,” and “would not change his ties with Israel.”
And it was especially sickening for a German government representative — purporting to participate in a Holocaust memorial — to behave in this manner. He placed a wreath at Yad Vashem, and two days later effectively embraced a subversive group seeking to demonize the IDF.
Netanyahu is to be applauded for his response. It is disappointing that Isaac Herzog did not join Netanyahu, and display a united front. He too has previously condemned BtS as a subversive, anti-Israeli organization.
By refusing to meet Gabriel, Netanyahu made a public statement: We don’t expect special treatment, but today — in the week we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day — we are strong enough to tell you to stay away if you behave with such contempt that would be considered unacceptable by any self-respecting state. Above all, we should expect more sensitive behavior from a German minister, especially one who regards himself as a potential future leader of his nation.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article was originally published in Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post.