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New Tensions Between Israel and Germany
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visits the Hall of Remembrance, where the names of major death and concentration camps are written, during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum commemorating the six million Jews killed by Nazis during World War II, in Jerusalem on April 24, 2017. (GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)

New Tensions Between Israel and Germany

Germany working to help pass UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem

The relations between Israel and Germany are growing increasingly tense after a cancelled meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, new comments by Gabriel about the Holocaust, and involvement in a new UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled the meeting with Gabriel last week after the German foreign minister refused to cancel meetings with two dovish organizations in Israel—Breaking the Silence and B’tselem, which have been critical of the Israeli government.

The meetings, which were supposed to have been held quietly, with no publicity or photos, became the center of a diplomatic dispute and neither man backed down from his position. It was also a signal of the growing gap between Israel and Germany on the issue of Israel’s continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“Germany is becoming more aware of the fact that Netanyahu and the Israeli government need to be spoken to in a more straightforward way,” Moshe Zimmerman, an expert on Germany at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “If the German government is not satisfied with the ongoing settlement policy, they need to say it clearly.”

The diplomatic tensions came as Israel celebrated Holocaust Memorial Day. Germany has gone out of its way to repent for its role in the Holocaust, from reparations to Holocaust education throughout the country, to firm support of Israel.

Israeli officials played down the tensions.

“Germany and Israel enjoy deep close and friendly relations, and despite the unnecessary decision of the German foreign minister those relations will continue as good and stable,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon told The Media Line.

But days later Gabriel again made headlines with comments that the Social Democrats (his political party) and the Jews were the first victims of the Holocaust – the first in the name of politics and the second in the name of race.

“Gabriel’s claim is a negative exploitation of the memory of the Holocaust,” Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said.

Now, there are yet more tensions over a proposed UNESCO resolution due to be voted on Tuesday, as Israelis celebrate their 69th Independence Day. From Israel’s perspective the current UNESCO Resolution is less anti-Israel than previous ones which ignored the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. This resolution takes a softer approach but still defines Israel as an occupying power, and criticizes Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem.

Germany was active in negotiating a deal in which all 11 EU member states on the UNESCO executive committee will either abstain or vote in favor of the resolution. In the past Germany had opposed any anti-Israel resolutions and had helped Israel mobilize other European countries to vote against it.

All of this may have more to do with internal politics in Germany than anything else. His party faces contested federal elections in October, and he could be trying to gain support for the Social Democrats.

“I assume that the upcoming elections do have an influence on the way he behaves outside Germany,” Zimmerman said. “He knows that German public opinion is not as tolerant to Israeli policies as the German government is. He is trying to show he can go his own way in the Middle East.”

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