It is either me or them: Netanyahu is at war with “Breaking the Silence,” the left-wing NGO which gathers testimonies from IDF soldiers about alleged human rights violations. Breaking the Silence has testified about these alleged violations to international organizations. The NGO is now the at the center of a diplomatic debacle with Germany. After learning that the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, intends to meet Breaking the Silence representatives during his visit to Israel this week, Netanyahu posed an ultimatum: If you don’t cancel the meeting – I will not be meeting you.
So far, the German FM hasn’t budged. According to several sources, he intends to meet with left-wing groups this evening as planned. Speaking to Germany’s ZDF television, Gabriel said that a Netanyahu cancelation would be “regrettable” but not a “catastrophe.” “You can’t get a proper and comprehensive picture in any country on earth if you only meet in government offices.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s ultimatum sparked a lively political debate, with praise from his right and criticism from his left. Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett released a statement supporting Netanyahu, claiming “Breaking the Silence is not an anti-Netanyahu organization but an anti-IDF group and it is inappropriate for a foreign minister who visits a country to meet with elements who act against that state. We would not do it and we expect our friends not to do it.” Shas leader Aryeh Deri also tweeted in support: “Foreign countries must not interfere in Israel’s internal issues.”
On the other side, opposition leader, Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog blasted the ultimatum as “a serious blow to Israel’s foreign relations with the largest economy in Europe and a true friend of Israel. Instead of running away, I call on Netanyahu to meet with the German Foreign Minister and present his views and positions without fear.” Herzog himself met FM Gabriel this morning in Jerusalem and Gabriel’s scheduled meeting with President Rivlin was also held as planned.
This is not the first time that Netanyahu has waged a battle against Breaking the Silence under Israel’s diplomatic auspices. In February, the Belgian Ambassador was summoned for a reprimand at the Foreign Ministry, after the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met with representatives of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. Some of the PM’s critics pointed out that these moves are counterproductive and elevate the left-wing groups. “Netanyahu’s decision places Israel and its government at the same level of importance as small organizations, elevating them to the rank of martyrs in the eyes of the world. This is the way there is no foreign policy, only internal policy,” Tzipi Livni said. “This is an act of panic and weakness that sends a crooked and erroneous message that we have something to hide and Israel is not the democratic state that we say it is. Instead of boycotting, it is better to deal with their claims directly and to give the excellent answers that I know Israel and the IDF have.”
IBC again: Remember how there was almost an election over the status of public broadcasting? This week, MKs are supposed to vote to amend the law, allowing for the compromise between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. The compromise is set forth in a bill which passed its first reading today. Under this new law, the soon-to-be-launched Israel Broadcast Corporation’s news department will be restructured. This followed the PM’s complaints that the news department had a left-wing bias. Debates in the Knesset started today, but, as often happens, the lawmakers found a zillion other things to talk about, whether it’s the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, or supermarkets open on Shabbat, and it was easy to forget what the topic of the discussion was meant to be. When the MKs stayed on topic, a common thread of the opposition was that Netanyahu’s flip-flopping suggests that he has gone insane, with Meretz leader, Zehava Gal-On, suggesting he consult with his wife, Sarah, a psychologist by profession.