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Netanyanu cancels meeting with German FM over session with left-wing groups

April 25, 2017 7:13 P.M. (Updated: April 25, 2017 11:42 P.M.)
Photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP/Menahem Kahana/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a scheduled meeting with Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday, after Gabriel planned meetings with representatives of Israeli left-wing groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, in a continuation of rising intolerance in the Israeli government for any criticisms targeting the state.

According to Israeli media, the meeting between the two was scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m., but was cancelled by Netanyahu when Gabriel refused to cancel his meetings with B’Tselem, a human rights organization, and Breaking the Silence, a group dedicated to publicizing the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers who had committed or witnessed human rights violations while deployed in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement that Netanyahu's policy was “not to meet foreign visitors who on trips to Israel meet with groups that slander IDF soldiers as war criminals.”

The German foreign minister defended his decision, saying that having such meetings was “totally normal.”

"You never get the full picture of any state in the world if you just meet with figures in government ministries," he reportedly said.

According to Times of Israel, Gabriel had received news of Netanyahu’s decision while meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem.

“We are committed to the friendship, partnership, and special relationship with Israel, and nothing will change that,” Gabriel was reported as saying after Netanyahu’s announcement.

According to Israeli media outlet Haaretz, Netanyahu attempted to call Gabriel to explain his reasoning behind the cancellation, but Gabriel reportedly refused the call.

Meanwhile, Gabriel also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah earlier in his visit to the region.

As international criticisms around Israel’s human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory have increased in recent years, the Israeli government has responded by fast tracking a series of right-wing policies that rights groups claim are aimed at weeding out any criticisms aimed at the Israeli state.

B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence have both accused the Israeli government of targeting them amid a government crackdown on dissent.

Both groups were listed in Israel’s controversial “NGO bill” passed last year, which compels organizations to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from public foreign entities.

Organizations in Israel that rely on public foreign funding also tend to oppose the government’s right-wing policies and human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory, leading many to claim that the bill was passed in order to limit the influence of left-wing groups in Israel, which constituted 23 of the 25 organizations listed.

Breaking the Silence was accused of “treason” in March last year for releasing accounts by soldiers reportedly containing classified information -- a charge the group has consistently denied.

An Israeli court held a hearing in May last year over the charges, with the attorney general demanding the group release the identity of soldiers who gave accounts of human rights abuses and war crimes committed in the occupied territory.

The group has said the move is a government attempt to shut down the organization and prevent it from continuing its work, which is dependent on maintaining the anonymity of soldiers who come forward to reveal human rights abuses committed against Palestinians.

In February, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, decided to further the “NGO bill” by introducing legislation that would limit left-wing organizations’ access to government information.

According to Haaretz, all non-governmental groups in Israel are currently exempt from paying fees to obtain information from state organizations through the Freedom of Information Act. However, the bill would not only strip this exemption for NGOs which receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments, but also make them pay double the regular fee of 20 shekels ($5.45) per document.

The Israeli government has also introduced anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) policies, including passing a law in March banning foreigners who have openly expressed support for BDS from entering the country.

Following a United Nations Security Council resolution that was adopted earlier this year, calling for an end to illegal settlements in the Palestinian territory and which reiterated that their existence is illegal under international law, the Israeli government announced it would cut $6 million from contributions to the UN due to the international body’s “anti-Israel” stance.

Last month, Israel’s Foreign Minister was reportedly instructed by Netanyahu to slash $2 million from Israel’s contributions to the UN in protest of the adoption of four resolutions in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) addressing issues of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory.

It was reported at the time that the funds were cut to the UN due to the resolutions being “part of an Israeli campaign together with allies and headed by the United States, to correct the obsessive discrimination against Israel at the UN and its agencies.”
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