After a diplomatic row between Israeli and German officials in recent weeks, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier reassured Israeli leaders that the bond between the two countries was “an honorable and special relationship.”
“The foundations [of the Israeli-German] relationship are so broad that I think they can endure some turbulence like that taking place in the last 14 days,” Steinmeier said in a meeting with Israeli President Rueven Rivlin.
Relations turned chilly over the past few weeks when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the visiting diplomat insisted on meeting with organizations critical of the Israeli government.
“Diplomats are welcome to meet with representatives of civil society but Prime Minister Netanyahu will not meet with those who lend legitimacy to organizations that call for the criminalization of Israeli soldiers,” the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time.
Steinmeier, who is not scheduled to meet any controversial groups during his visit, said trust and understanding between Israel and Germany should result in no limitations.
“I believe that we can and should be able to lead an open and honest dialogue with one another, and to my mind, need no new rules,” he said. “We should not impose any restrictions, we should have the trust that friends like we are will be able to interpret what they hear in the right way.”
Gabriel met with Breaking the Silence, an NGO that collects anonymous testimonies from IDF soldiers on alleged human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and B’Tselem, another group that deals with human rights issues and campaigns against Israeli settlement building.
The German government provides millions of euros to political advocacy NGOs in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, to organizations that promote anti-Israel BDS and “lawfare” campaigns, anti-Zionism, a “one-state” vision, antisemitism, and violence.
“German funding to organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence is a small part of the problem; the government also provides money to radical organizations that delegitimize the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality,” According to Prof. Gerald Steinberg, President of NGO Monitor. “This controversy is an opportunity to hold a serious dialogue between elected officials to solve the problems arising from the paralleled European links with Israeli political groups and NGOs.”
Although many Israelis are critical of B’Tselem, the Israeli NGO has exposed cases in which Israeli soldiers have eventually been found guilty of crimes against Palestinians.
Steinmeier met Rivlin Saturday night for a beer and then visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Sunday. He said that Germany has an obligation to stand by Israel due to its Nazi past.
“We Germans brought upon ourselves incomprehensible blame. At this place the memory becomes pain, mourning and shame. By taking responsibility for what happened we stand by Israel and [together] work for a common future,” Ynet reported him as saying.