NIF grantees B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence received yet another expression of support this week when the Germany’s president implied that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hampering democracy by working to silence them.
“Democracy is able to take a critical look at itself and to correct itself,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told university students Sunday during his visit to Israel. “I believe that civil-society organizations that are part of the social debate deserve our respect as democrats even when they take a critical view of a government – in Germany and here in Israel.”
Last month, Netanyahu pressured German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to cancel a scheduled meeting with these Israeli opponents of the occupation. Gabriel did not cave to the pressure and met with the organizations. Netanyahu responded by cancelling his meeting with the foreign minister.
Steinmeier met Sunday with Netanyahu and in a joint press conference afterward said that he was trying to weather the storm caused by the earlier incident.
Netanyahu’s move bolstered the groups even within Israel. In a cloaked admonishment of Netanyahu only a day after he shirked Gabriel, Israeli President Ruby Rivlin warned Israelis not to view the entire world through Holocaust lenses. Many Israelis go too far when they see “every threat as a threat to our existence,” he said.
Writing in the Haaretz newspaper, B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad said that Netanyahu’s failure to dissuade Gabriel from meeting with the organizations helps the entire anti-occupation movement in Israel.
“Israelis who oppose the occupation should be very encouraged by this,” he wrote. “International officials who are weighing their policies must pay careful attention to these events.”