As Rio Olympics prepare to honor Munich dead, still no envoy from Israel

Local Jewish leaders ‘disappointed’ no ambassador will participate in commemoration of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at 1972 Games

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of members of Brazil's Jewish community rallying in solidarity with Israel, June 17, 2014 (photo credit: courtesy)
Illustrative photo of members of Brazil's Jewish community rallying in solidarity with Israel, June 17, 2014 (photo credit: courtesy)

Brazil’s Jewish community is dismayed over the fact that Israel has not yet appointed a new ambassador to Brasilia, particularly lamenting the fact that the Jewish state will not be represented by a senior diplomat during an upcoming event to commemorate the Israelis murdered during the 1972 Olympics.

“It is disappointing that there will be no Israeli ambassador in Brazil during the Olympics, especially in light of the event to remember the Israeli athletes killed in Munich,” Fernando Lottenberg, the president of the Jewish Confederation of Brazil, told The Times of Israel this week.

The summer Olympics officially open in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. A few days later, on August 14, City Hall is scheduled to host an event in memory of 11 Israeli athletes who were brutally murdered by Palestinian terrorists in September 1972. The commemoration will be attended by family members of the Israeli victims and Olympic officials from Israel and Brazil.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Israel’s new consul general to San Paulo, Dori Goren, will represent the Israeli government at the event.

Diplomatic relations between Brasilia and Jerusalem have been tense since August 2015, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed former settler leader Dani Dayan as ambassador to Brazil. Brasilia refused to accept Dayan’s appointment, ostensibly due to his past chairmanship of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for leaders of West Bank settlements.

Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Dani Dayan during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Netanyahu insisted on Dayan as envoy to Brazil for months, until in March he instead appointed him to serve as Israel’s consul-general in New York. Dayan officially took up the new post on Monday.

Meanwhile, Israel has had no ambassador in Brasilia since December, when Reda Mansour left the post. Netanyahu has yet to appoint a new ambassador to Brazil, though he is considering tapping his controversial confidant Yossi Sheli for the position, raising eyebrows in Brasilia.

Sheli, who has no diplomatic experience, was barred from public office for three years after admitting he had not declared his political affiliation despite being a Likud party member when he acted as chairman of the Israel Postal Company’s board of directors and director general of the Beersheba municipality, according to a recent report in Ynet.

He came under the scrutiny of the Jerusalem prosecutors in 2008, who issued an indictment alleging that he had presented false affidavits to the Public Services Authority. He was found guilty of perjury and fraud.

In 2012, Sheli signed a plea bargain in which he admitted to the charge of breach of statutory duty without permission. According to the deal, he was forbidden from serving the state until June 2015, Ynet reported.

“Yes, I am considering appointing him as our ambassador, but I have not yet made a final decision,” Netanyahu told The Times of Israel during a briefing for reporters Sunday. “He is a polyglot and speaks several languages and is clearly a very talented individual.”

As news of Sheli’s possible appointment emerged, a reporter for Valor Econômico, Brazil’s largest financial newspaper, wrote that the Israeli leader “seems committed to open controversies in choosing his ambassadors to Brazil.” First, he tapped a former settler leader the Brazilian Foreign Ministry refused to accept, the reporter, Daniel Rittner, recalled. Now, “Bibi strikes again,” Rittner continued, citing Sheli’s problematic history.

The Brazilian government, on the other hand, has made an effort to move on from the diplomatic spat that started with Dayan’s aborted appointment, said Lottenberg, the leader of the country’s Jewish community.

The Foreign Ministry in Brasilia approved Israel’s new consul to Sao Paulo very quickly and issued an unusual statement expressing regret over its support for an anti-Israel resolution at UNESCO.

“Brazil has shown its willingness to end one of the longest bilateral crises in a long and fruitful relationship,” Lottenberg said. “We hope those signs are being understood by the Israeli side and that soon we can have an experienced person as the ambassador in Brasilia again.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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