Colombia president likens Israeli military to Nazis, protesters burn flag at embassy

Asked by Israeli ambassador to condemn Hamas’s mass killings, Gustavo Petro tweets: ‘Terrorism is killing innocent children, whether in Colombia or Palestine’

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro speaks to supporters during a rally in Bogota, Colombia, June 7, 2023.  (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro speaks to supporters during a rally in Bogota, Colombia, June 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

JTA — Amid Hamas’s mass killings in Israel, Colombian President Gustavo Petro tussled with Jewish leaders on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter, and pro-Palestinian protesters burned an Israeli flag outside of the Israeli embassy in Bogotá.

Since the news of the attacks spread on Saturday, Gustavo Petro — a former member of the M19 armed guerilla movement and Colombia’s first left-wing president in decades — has tweeted and retweeted a steady stream of pro-Palestinian messages on his account on X. Still pinned to the top of his profile is a collage of photos of Palestinian children who he wrote ​​were “murdered by the illegal occupation of their territory.”

“The only way for Palestinian children to sleep in peace is for Israeli children to sleep in peace,” his tweet from Saturday reads. “The only way for Israeli children to sleep in peace is for Palestinian children to sleep in peace. War will never achieve this, it can only be achieved by a peace agreement that respects international legality and the right of the two peoples to exist free.”

In another tweet, Petro responded to Israel’s ambassador to Colombia, Gali Dagan, who had told local media he hoped Petro would condemn Hamas’s attacks. “Terrorism is killing innocent children, whether in Colombia or Palestine,” Petro wrote.

Israel’s embassy in Bogotá did not respond to a request for comment. But in response to Petro’s tweets, Marcos Peckel, the director of Colombia’s Jewish communal organization — the Confederación de Comunidades Judías de Colombia — tweeted: “President @petrogustavo The innocent children who died today were Jews and Israelis massacred by Palestinian terrorists.”

Petro tweeted back: “Governments that get used to bombing children do not seem fair to me. God does not bomb children.

Petro also tweeted that Gaza is being “converted into a concentration camp.”

“Concentration camps are prohibited by international law and those who develop them become criminals against humanity,” he wrote in response to a video that shows Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant talking about the situation in Gaza.

In another response to the video of Gallant, who is shown saying that Gazans now lack electricity and a water supply, Petro tweeted: “This is what the Nazis said about the Jews. Democratic peoples cannot allow Nazism to reestablish itself in international politics… This hate speech if it continues will only bring a holocaust.”

The Confederación de Comunidades Judías de Colombia released a statement about Petro’s comments.

“As the representative organization of the Jewish community of Colombia, we reject the obstinance of President Gustavo Petro in refusing to openly and without subterfuge condemn the savage aggression of which the State of Israel, a great friend of Colombia, was subjected to yesterday by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, as have done the vast majority of democracies of the world, including those governments, including those governed by the progressive and democratic forces that the president so admires,” the group wrote. “The recurring statements of President Petro on X seemed to be justifying the actions of Hamas, its war crimes.”

Vicky Chehebar Kassin, a commissioner for gender equality at the Latin America Jewish Congress, told JTA that “Despite the overwhelming concern we feel from reading our president’s justification of Hamas’ terrorism, we are comforted by the immense number of voices in Colombia who condemn these violations of human rights and war crimes, like the use of rape as a weapon of war, commonly used by terrorist groups such as ISIS or Boko Haram.”

People erase graffiti against Israel during a rally to show solidarity to the Israeli people, in Bogota on October 9, 2023, following the October 7 deadly attack on Israel by Palestinian terror group Hamas.(Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP)

Meanwhile, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside Israel’s embassy in Bogota on Saturday and burned an Israeli flag.

Later that night, the embassy was defaced with graffiti showing a swastika, a Jewish star and the word “terror” written in Hebrew. More graffiti added “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” “Arafat lives” and “Free Palestine.”

In response, Dagan tweeted, “Look at ‘the solidarity’ we receive below at the [Embassy] facilities.”

Pro-Israel supporters demonstrated outside the embassy on Monday.

People gather to show support for Israel outside the Israeli embassy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, two days after Hamas terrorists launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

Brazilian solidarity

In contrast to Petro, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who has been very critical of Israel — expressed solidarity with the Israeli victims on Saturday but crucially did not mention Hamas.

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva smiles during his election certification ceremony at the Supreme Electoral Court in Brasilia, Brazil, December. 12, 2022. (Eraldo Peres/AP)

“I was shocked by the terrorist attacks carried out today against civilians in Israel, which caused numerous victims. In expressing my condolences to the families of the victims, I reaffirm my rejection of terrorism in any of its forms,” wrote Lula, whose previous government officially recognized a Palestinian state in 2010.

The flag of Israel was laser projected over the building of Brazil’s National Congress on Sunday in solidarity with the Israeli victims. The projection covered one of the two domes of the landmark building in Brasilia on Sunday, making the dome look somewhat like a big kippah.

The flag of Israel projected over the building of Brazil’s National Congress on October 8, 2023, in solidarity with the Israeli victims of Hamas mass killings (Brazilian Israelite Confederation)

“It’s a sign of solidarity and also in honor of all those killed, injured, and missing as a result of this cruel attack,” wrote Senator Davi Alcolumbre, a Jewish congressman who previously served as president of the Senate.

In Rio de Janeiro, the Municipal Chamber’s building was covered by a white and blue laser projection.

“Watching on TV the terrorist and barbaric attacks against Israel, I come to express my solidarity once again with all Israelis and the Jewish people,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes posted on social media with a picture of him with Shimon Peres, Israel’s late prime minister.

Marcus M. Gilban contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.

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