Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday slammed Germany's foreign minister as "insensitive" over refusing to cancel meetings with rights groups critical of Israel's government, amid rising tensions between the two allies.
Netanyahu had scrapped talks with Sigmar Gabriel at the last minute, after Germany's top diplomat pressed on with plans to meet with Israeli rights groups Breaking The Silence and B'Tselem.
In an interview with Germany's biggest selling Bild daily, Netanyahu defended his decision.
"Foreign diplomats are welcome to meet with civil society activists and members of the opposition and anyone else they'd like," he said.
"But my red line is that I will not meet diplomats who come to Israel and lend legitimacy to fringe radical groups that falsely accuse our soldiers of war crimes and undermine Israeli security," he added.
Netanyahu, who is also Israel's foreign minister, said he had tried to patch things up with Gabriel.
"I wanted to telephone Foreign Minister Gabriel to explain my position and to clear things up, but he would not take the call," Netanyahu told Bild.
Pointing out that the meetings with the activist groups were held on a day when Israel was commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, Netanyahu said that "it was a particularly insensitive time to seek a meeting like this".
"These are the days we mourn the murdered members of our people in the Holocaust and our fallen soldiers. The Israeli army is the one force that keeps our people safe today," he said.
Netanyahu's decision to cancel the meeting with Gabriel was a rare step, but in line with the current right-wing government's stance against groups it accuses of having political agendas.
Due to its historical responsibility as the perpetrator of the Holocaust that killed six million Jews, Germany has not only been Israel's staunch ally but has also been cautious in its public criticism of the Jewish state.
However, tensions have grown as Netanyahu has irked Berlin by pressing on with settlement building in the Palestinian territories despite repeated warnings from world powers that it would harm any prospects for peace.