German FM: Why Shouldn’t I Meet Leftist Groups?

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. (Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke)

In his first response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s threat to cancel their meeting later Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that it would be “hard to imagine” that the meeting could be canceled because he is to meet with leftist groups. “It would certainly be an unusual event.” With that, he told Channel Two, “it would not be a tragedy.”

In any event, Gabriel plans to meet with members of far-left groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. On Monday evening, Netanyahu’s Office said that if those meetings took place, the prime minister would cancel his meeting with Gabriel. Government officials quoted on Israel Radio Tuesday said that by meeting with the groups, Minister Gabriel “is showing very poor diplomatic form. When visiting a sovereign country, and an ally to boot, it is customary for foreign officials to run their schedules by officials, in order to ensure they are not breaking protocol or putting their host in an embarrassing position.”

Minister Gabriel said that he felt fully justified in meeting the groups. “You cannot get an impression of a country when you speak only to the government officials,” he told Channel Two. “You have to speak to the artists, the writers and even the critics.” However, he added, there was no need to make “too much drama” out of the issue. “Even if the meeting is canceled, it will not be a catastrophe and it will not change my relationship with Israel.”

In a statement, far-left party Meretz said that the German delegation accompanying Gabriel had sent them a message stating that the German foreign minister “does not plan to capitulate to Netanyahu’s demands,” and that he would not cancel the meetings. If he does not meet with PM Netanyahu as a result, then so be it. “The ultimatum is another step in the deterioration of democracy and in the incitement campaign led by Netanyahu,” Meretz added.

In the past, Minister Gabriel has gone so far as to call Israel an “apartheid state” over what he said were “discriminatory policies” against Palestinians. He is considered to be one of the prime movers in the German government for a renewed role for Germany and Europe in the Middle East crisis, especially given the vacuum left by the United States, which under President Donald Trump has so far taken a hands-off approach, if not favoring Israel and its settlement policies. Speaking Sunday, Gabriel said that “our solidarity with Israel also means working to ensure that Israel and Palestine can live side by side in dignity and peace. Only a two-state solution will be sustainable.”