Colombia tells Israel envoy to leave as diplomatic feud over Gaza war deepens

Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva says Gali Dagan should ‘at a minimum, apologize and leave’ for rebuking President Gustavo Petro, who compared IDF to Nazis during ongoing conflict

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro waves at his supporters at Bolivar square after a march to support his proposed reforms, in Bogota, Colombia, September 27, 2023. (Fernando Vergara/AP)
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro waves at his supporters at Bolivar square after a march to support his proposed reforms, in Bogota, Colombia, September 27, 2023. (Fernando Vergara/AP)

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia on Monday demanded that Israel’s ambassador leave the South American country, given a worsening spat over President Gustavo Petro’s remarks on the war with Hamas.

Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva said the envoy, Gali Dagan, should, “at a minimum, apologize and leave” after criticizing Petro’s comparison of Israeli attacks on Gaza with the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Leyva lashed out on social media at the “rudeness” of Israel’s response to Petro, adding: “Shame.”

Petro, in one post on X, accused Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of using language about the people of Gaza similar to what the “Nazis said of the Jews.”

Israel declared war on Hamas after members of the terrorist group stormed across the Gaza border on October 7, engaging in a brutal and heinous massacre across southern Israel, killing more than 1,300 people, mostly civilians, and taking at least 200 people hostage. Israel responded with a bombing campaign of Hamas targets that has killed at least 2,750 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Colombia’s first leftist president asserted that “democratic peoples cannot allow Nazism to reestablish itself in international politics.”

People demonstrate in support of Palestinians in Cali, Colombia, on October 13, 2023. (JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)

On Sunday, Israel, one of the main providers of arms to Colombia’s military, said it was “halting security exports” to the South American country as the diplomatic feud escalated.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said Colombia’s ambassador, Margarita Manjarrez, had been summoned over Petro’s “hostile and antisemitic statements.”

The president’s statements were received with “astonishment,” Haiat said.

He accused Petro of “expressing support for the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists, fueling antisemitism, affecting the representatives of the State of Israel and threatening the peace of the Jewish community in Colombia.”

In response to Haiat’s statement, Petro said his country does not support “genocide.”

“If we have to suspend foreign relations with Israel, we suspend them,” he added.

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)

Colombia’s armed forces, engaged in a decades-long conflict with leftist guerrillas, rightwing paramilitaries and drug cartels, uses Israeli-made weapons and aircraft. The country has a history of strong diplomatic and military relations with Israel and the United States.

Petro has also engaged in an online war of words directly with the ambassador, Dagan, who had urged the president to condemn a “terrorist attack against innocent civilians.”

In his response, Petro said: “Terrorism is to kill innocent children, whether it be in Colombia or in Palestine.”

Dagan then invited Petro to visit the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, which the president retorted he saw being “copied in Gaza.”

“No democrat in the world can accept Gaza being turned into a concentration camp,” Petro added.

Initially, Colombia’s foreign ministry had issued a statement to “vehemently condemn the terrorism and attacks against civilians that have occurred in Israel” and expressing solidarity with the victims of Hamas.

The link to that statement was later disabled, with a new one making no mention of “terrorism.”

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