26 April '17..
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's visit to Israel is getting far more media attention than most visiting dignitaries tend to receive, especially in recent years. The overwhelming majority of the Israeli press downplays diplomatic visits from around the globe, although this is not the place to expand on that issue.
However, the scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gabriel was canceled after the German minister ignored Netanyahu's ultimatum to cancel his meetings with representatives of far-left NGO's B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence.
The argument around Gabriel's visit is similar to the controversy surrounding Pope Paul VI's visit to Israel in 1964. That historic visit, under the shadow of the Vatican's silence during the Second World War, began in Jordan and proceeded to the Old City of Jerusalem, three years before its liberation. From there, the pope went to Megiddo, where he was ceremoniously greeted by the heads of the state and army. The Sephardic chief rabbi at the time, Yitzhak Nissim, boycotted the ceremony. "Anyone who wants to meet me can come to Jerusalem," he said. Many shared the chief rabbi's sentiment. "A national disgrace," many others called it. Then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol did not agree with the criticism.
Fifty-three years later, the tables have turned. The prime minister is unwilling to change the rules of a diplomatic visit, in addition to the accepted rules of ceremony. Netanyahu believes that anyone who meets on their own accord with organizations that are openly hostile to Israel is essentially in violation of these unwritten rules. Those who oppose the prime minister's stance, such as Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, cite the potential harm to the countries' diplomatic and economic relationship. Ironically, it has been the German guest who has repeatedly said that missing the meeting with Netanyahu would not be a catastrophe, because the relationship between the two countries is stronger than ever.
To the casual observer this could certainly appear to be a fight between two alphas, until one is left to ponder the guest's character.
"You never get the full picture of any state in the world if you just meet with figures in government ministries," Gabriel told us. By all means then, the esteemed guest is welcome to meet with the heads of Hebron's Jewish community. Perhaps the prism through which he views the situation would expand a little?
The sense is that the German foreign minister is intentionally trying to poke the Israeli government in the eye. Just two months ago, after all, the Belgian ambassador to Israel was reprimanded by his own government for meeting with those same two "well-intentioned" organizations. The prime minister issued direct instructions to come down hard on the issue. Did the German Foreign Ministry not get the memo? That is highly unlikely.
There are those who ask why Germany does not have its own Holocaust remembrance day. It is a reasonable question, particularly when the insolent German foreign minister behaves as if he is visiting a banana republic. The prime minister's ultimatum is commendable and appropriate, and any other head of state would do the same.
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