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Brazil-Israel row escalates as President Lula declared ‘persona non grata’

In World
February 19, 2024

SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s comparison of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to the Holocaust has unleashed a diplomatic firestorm, with Brazil recalling its ambassador on Feb 19 and Israel declaring Mr Lula “persona non grata”.

The row erupted the day before when Mr Lula said the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip “isn’t a war, it’s a genocide,” and compared it to “when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mr Lula had “crossed a red line” and Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Mr Lula is “persona non grata in the state of Israel so long as he doesn’t retract his remarks and apologise.”

Mr Katz summoned Brazil’s ambassador Frederico Meyer for a meeting on Feb 19 at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem.

However, Brazil does not intend to retract Mr Lula’s comment, sources with knowledge of internal discussions told Reuters on Feb 19.

Mr Lula’s orders are that there will be no retraction and any answers will be given through diplomatic channels, the sources said.

In a tit-for-tat move, the Brazilian foreign ministry also said it had also summoned the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Mr Daniel Zonshine, for a meeting later on Feb 19, and recalled Mr Meyer from Tel Aviv for consultations.

According to a diplomatic source, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira and Mr Zonshine had a “harsh, but appropriate” conversation, as Mr Vieira “demonstrated dissatisfaction” with the treatment of Mr Meyer and Mr Lula in Jerusalem over the situation.

That included Mr Meyer being forced to listen to a statement in Hebrew “without an interpreter, without knowing what was being said,” the source added.

Veteran leftist Mr Lula, 78, is a prominent voice for the Global South whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the G-20.

His comments came as Brazil prepares to host a G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting on Feb 21 and Feb 22, when top diplomats including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will gather in Rio de Janeiro, with the divisive Gaza conflict high on the agenda.

The war started on Oct 7, when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack that left about 1,160 people dead in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages – 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,092 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

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