What Germany's Foreign Minister Should Have Done in Israel

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly canceled a meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after Gabriel met with Breaking the Silence, an organization that accuses the Israeli government of war crimes. As the Times of Israel explained:

Few organizations are more despised on the Israeli right -- and by many who are not on the right -- than Breaking the Silence, which publishes anonymous testimonies documenting alleged human rights abuses by Israeli soldiers.

That's the equivalent of meeting Wikileaks -- denounced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo as a "hostile intelligence service" -- right before a scheduled meeting with the U.S. president. Or the equivalent of a senior American official meeting with German ultra-rightists before a scheduled meeting with Chancellor Merkel. Visiting diplomats simply do not raise the profile and credibility of fringe groups that question the legitimacy of their host government.

Gabriel's action was obnoxious in the extreme, and Israel's prime minister had no choice but to snub him. More egregious than Gabriel's sin of commission, though, was his sin of omission: Germany could explain the reality of their circumstances to the Palestinians more credibly than any other country, by reference to its own sad history.

Why the German foreign minister felt compelled to violate basic rules of diplomacy is another question. Germans dislike President Trump by a 3-to-1 margin, and showing disrespect to Israel is an indirect snub at the United States. As a leader of the Social-Democratic Party, moreover, Gabriel speaks to a left-wing constituency -- many of whom equate Israelis with Nazis. As Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick observes:

As polls taken between 2011 and 2015 showed, between a third and half of Germans view Israel as the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany.

That is of minor consequence in the great scheme of things. The Germans will never forgive us for Auschwitz, as an Israeli psychiatrist quipped, and the memory of Nazi crimes is made easier to bear by believing that the Jews are just as bad. (I run into Germans who believe this from time to time, and tell them that the so-called Palestinians they see on television are actors -- we exterminated all the real Palestinians, just like the Nazis).

Sigmar Gabriel should have explained to the Palestinians that they are beaten, and what it means to be beaten.

The conflict continues because the Arab side -- after losing the 1947 War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and two pointless Intifadas -- refuses to accept that it is beaten. That is a common occurrence in history. Most casualties in war occur well after hope of victory has vanished; that, as I wrote in a study for Asia Times last year, explains why many wars continue until there aren't enough men left to fight.