Netanyahu cancels meeting with visiting German minister

Germany's foreign minister has rejected demands by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he cancel a scheduled Tuesday meeting with left-wing Israeli groups.

Gabriel insisted it's "perfectly normal" to meet with "social groups" when visiting a foreign country.

An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed reports that Netanyahu threatened to cancel the meeting if Gabriel also met with Israeli rights groups Breaking The Silence and B'Tselem.

Gabriel earlier told German public television station ZDF that a decision to cancel the meeting would be "extremely regrettable".

"My policy is clear: not to meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet with organizations that defame IDF soldiers and try to prosecute our soldiers as war criminals, which diplomats would never consider doing in the United States, Britain or anywhere else", he said.

Gabriel, in the country to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and discuss peace efforts, was originally slated to meet with Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin later Tuesday.

Rivlin raised the controversy regarding Breaking the Silence, saying that as a democratic state Israel had no problem with criticism, but it had to be based in reality.

Netanyahu's office announced the cancellation after the foreign minister declined to drop his session with Breaking the Silence, a nonprofit that collects the testimonies of former Israeli combatants with the aim of exposing "the reality of everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories".

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Israeli parliamentarians largely supported Netanyahu's decision.

Roettgen said that relations between Germany and Israel remained deep and important, but also mentioned "grave differences of opinion".

"The police have found an evidentiary basis for indictments against Sara Netanyahu, [the Netanyahus' employee] Ali Fahima and against Ezra Seidoff, the deputy director general of the Prime Minister's office", Haaretz reported, although the police statement - unusually -did not name any of the three individuals. The studiously diplomatic Steinmeier was Germany's foreign minister until January.

For his part, Gabriel nevertheless tried to down-play the incident by reiterating the close ties between Israel and Germany and his own relationship with Netanyahu.

In February, Israel reprimanded Belgium's ambassador after the country's prime minister met with Breaking the Silence on a trip to Israel, a day after Netanyahu had urged him to stop funding the group.

"It is inappropriate for a visiting Foreign Minister to meet people who are acting against that state", Bennett said in a statement. There will be another occasion to meet somewhere. "Our army is the most moral army in the world", the president said, adding that "it is an army made up of all our children".

"I can't answer your question because I don't know if it is true that the meeting is not taking place", he said during a news conference with the Palestinian prime minister in the West Bank.

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