Nominating former settler leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil was a “mistake,” a top official in Brasilia said Tuesday, in the first official comment from the Latin American country on Jerusalem’s controversial appointment.
Explaining his government’s opposition to Dayan, President Dilma Rousseff’s top foreign policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, referred to Dayan’s past as a senior leader of the settlement movement and his opposition to Palestinian statehood. Aurélio Garcia also accused Jerusalem of violating diplomatic protocol by announcing Dayan’s nomination before informing Brasilia, and brought up the fact that a year and half ago an Israeli official had called Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf.”
“I think it was a misstep by the Israeli government,” Aurélio Garcia told a Brazilian television station about Dayan’s appointment. “First of all, breaking a diplomatic rule is not a frivolity.” By having publicized Dayan’s appointment before informing Brazil, Israel committed a “severe” breach of the rules of international relations, he indicated.
At the same time, Aurélio Garcia — who in 2014 accused Jerusalem of committing “genocide” in the Gaza Strip — tried to downplay the diplomatic spat. “There is no arm wrestling with a friendly country like Israel, with which Brazil’s foreign policy had great ties even before the emergence of the State of Israel,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his nomination of Dayan as Israel’s new ambassador to Brazil on August 5. The Israeli cabinet approved Dayan’s appointment on September 6, paving the way for the Foreign Ministry to request what is called in diplomatic parlance an agrément — a host country’s confirmation of another state’s envoy to its capital.
After the agrément was withheld for several months, it emerged that Brasilia was refusing to accept Dayan due to his past as chairman of the Yesha Council, a committee representing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the unorthodox way in which his appointment was announced. Brazilian officials anonymously confirmed these reports, but Jerusalem refused to back down.
On January 5, The Times of Israel reported that Brazil, hoping for Israel to withdraw Dayan’s appointment and nominate an alternative candidate, promised to remain silent about Dayan as long as Jerusalem does the same.
But last Thursday, at a press conference for foreign journalists, Netanyahu for the first time since August publicly commented on the matter, making plain that he had no intention of replacing Dayan. “I believe that Danny Dayan is an exceptionally qualified candidate,” he said. “And he remains my candidate.”
In his Tuesday interview, Aurélio Garcia indicated that Dayan was being rejected because of his positions in favor of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and against Palestinian statehood, which are anathema to the international community, including Brazil.
Dayan was the Yesha Council’s chairman until 2013. He then served as the group’s chief foreign envoy, a position he left a year ago. He declined to be interviewed for this article.
Aurélio Garcia said Israel’s nomination of Dayan came “on the heels of” Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza and a diplomatic spat that followed harsh Brazilian criticism of Israel’s actions there.
“At that time there was a disproportionate reaction and a third- or fourth-level official said Brazil was an irrelevant country, a diplomatic dwarf,” Aurélio Garcia said, referring to Yigal Palmor, who at the time was the Foreign Ministry spokesperson. “The action was so disastrous that the Israeli president [Reuven Rivlin] had to call President Dilma to apologize.”
Protesting Israel’s alleged “disproportionate use of force” in Gaza, Brazil in July 2014 recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv. Palmor reacted harshly: “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” he said. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”
Palmor later also mocked Brazil for its “disproportionate” 7-1 loss against Germany in the soccer World Cup taking place at the time.
Rousseff criticized Palmor’s remarks at the time, saying: “Words, including the spokesman’s, sometimes create a very bad climate.” A few weeks later, Rivlin called his counterpart to apologize, telling her that the diplomat’s comments “do not correspond to the sentiments of the population” of Israel.