In a severe diplomatic incident, Chile’s president, a bitter critic of Israel, on Thursday refused to accept the credentials of new Israeli Ambassador Gil Artzyeli.
President Gabriel Boric’s spurning the Israeli envoy appeared to be a grave breach of diplomatic protocol and threatened to cloud relations between the two countries.
Boric rebuffed Artzyeli after being angered by the Israeli military killing a 17-year-old Palestinian during clashes with gunmen in the West Bank overnight, Ynet reported.
Artzyeli had been scheduled to present his credentials to Boric as a formality, but the Chilean government informed him that the ceremony had been canceled because of Israel “killing children in Gaza,” the report said.
Artzyeli had already arrived at the president’s residence for the ceremony, Walla reported.
The Chileans reportedly claimed the refusal was not a punishment of Israel, and that it had been decided to push the ceremony to October, but it was still considered an unprecedented affront.
Artzyeli, who arrived at his post in July, was also summoned for a talk with Chile’s foreign minister earlier Thursday.
There was no immediate response from Israel’s embassy in Chile.
Chile’s Jewish community condemned the refusal as a “serious diplomatic incident.”
Frente a grave incidente diplomático en que presidente @gabrielboric no recibió cartas credenciales de @Gil_Artzyeli, la Com. Judía, expresa su repudio. Es una ofensa a la amistad de más de 70 años entre Chile e Israel. Esperamos rectificación del @GobiernodeChile @IsraelinChile
— Comunidad Judía de Chile (@comjudiachile) September 15, 2022
The American Jewish Committee slammed the move as “unprecedented” and said Boric must apologize or risk irreparable harm to Israel-Chile ties, his connection to the Chilean Jewish community and Chile’s international reputation.
The left-wing Boric won Chile’s presidency in a landslide victory last year, unnerving the country’s Jewish community.
Boric has a tense relationship with Chile’s 18,000 Jews and has encouraged them to lobby for Israeli territorial concessions.
In 2019, before he was president, the community sent him a Rosh Hashanah gift along with a note expressing a desire for a “more inclusive, respectful society with more solidarity.”
“I appreciate the gesture but they could start by asking Israel to return the illegally occupied Palestinian territory,” Boric wrote after posting a picture of the gift to Twitter.
La Comunidad Judía en Chile me envía un tarrito de miel por el año nuevo judio, reafirmando su compromiso cn "una sociedad más inclusiva, solidaria y respetuosa". Agradezco el gesto pero podrían partir por pedirle a Israel que devuelva el territorio palestino ilegalmente ocupado. pic.twitter.com/rtb1dt8QRP
— Gabriel Boric Font (@gabrielboric) October 2, 2019
Boric’s criticism of Israel is longstanding. As a lawmaker, he supported a bill proposing to boycott Israeli goods from the Golan Heights, West Bank settlements and areas of Jerusalem that came under Israeli control in 1967.
During his presidential campaign, many members of the community expressed concern over the boycott, along with what they said was a pattern of demanding that local Jews condemn Israeli policy.
“We are of course willing to accept reasonable criticism about Israel, but what we hear from Boric is that Israel is a ‘genocidal’ and ‘murderous’ state,” Gabriel Zaliasnik, a prominent member of Chile’s Jewish community, told Haaretz during the campaign. “To make matters worse, he blames our Jewish community for Israel’s actions.”
An open letter in 2021 to Boric by 500 Chilean Jewish women said that “we do not believe that it is fair or correct for you to hold the Jews […] responsible for the policies of a government in power in Israel. History is full of examples of unjust accusations or massive blame on our people.”
JTA contributed to this report.