Katz: 'We will not forget and we will not forgive'

Israel declares Brazil’s Lula persona non grata for comparing Gaza war to Holocaust

Reprimanding ambassador at Yad Vashem, foreign minister says president will have to apologize before being welcomed to Israel

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Brazilian ambassador to Israel Frederico Meyer, left, and Foreign Minister Israel Katz tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Michael Dimenstein/GPO)
Brazilian ambassador to Israel Frederico Meyer, left, and Foreign Minister Israel Katz tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Michael Dimenstein/GPO)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva persona non grata on Monday over his comparison of Israel’s war against Hamas to the Holocaust.

Standing at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Katz, the son of Holocaust survivors, told Brazil’s Ambassador Federico Mayer that Israel “will not forget and we will not forgive.”

“In my name, and in the name of all Israeli citizens,” said Katz, “tell President Lula that he is persona non grata in Israel until he retracts his statements.”

“I brought you to a place that testifies more than anything else to what the Nazis and Hitler did to the Jews, including members of my family,” he continued. “The comparison between Israel’s just war against Hamas and the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazis is a disgrace and a severe antisemitic attack.”

Unusually for a diplomatic reprimand, the two also toured Yad Vashem together, and Katz showed Mayer the names of his grandparents who were killed in the Holocaust in the Book of Names.

“It seems like he internalized the message,” an Israeli official who was present told The Times of Israel.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a press conference in Addis Ababa on February 18, 2024. (Ricardo STUCKERT / Brazilian Presidency / AFP)

“What’s happening in the Gaza Strip isn’t a war, it’s a genocide,” Lula told reporters on Sunday in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, where he was attending an African Union summit.

“It’s not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It’s a war between a highly prepared army and women and children,” the veteran leftist politician falsely said.

Lula went on to assert that “what is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn’t happened at any other moment in history” except one: “When Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Israel is fighting a heavily armed terror group in the enclave in response to the deadliest attack on its population in its history. It says civilian casualties are the result of combatants operating from behind the cover of innocents, and that it makes efforts to minimize the deaths of Gazan civilians, including through evacuations of combat zones.

Hamas’s unverified figures, which do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, point to around 29,000 Gazans killed in the war, or slightly over 1% of the Strip’s total estimated population. Israel says at least 10,000 of those were terror operatives, and that the war would end if Hamas were to release the Israeli hostages it took during its October 7 onslaught, and surrender.

Troops operate in Gaza, in a handout image cleared for publication by the IDF on February 19, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

During the Holocaust, the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, systematically hunted down the Jewish population of Europe based on a racist ideology, deprived them of all rights, rounded them up in ghettos and camps and exterminated them, annihilating some two-thirds of the continent’s Jews.

Israel responded with outrage to Lula’s comments on Sunday, calling them “shameful” and saying the country’s ambassador would be summoned for a “stern reprimand.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Brazilian leader had “crossed a red line.”

“The words of the President of Brazil are shameful and alarming,” he said in a statement. “This is a trivialization of the Holocaust and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and Israel’s right to defend itself.”

“Israel is fighting for its defense and securing its future until complete victory and it does so while upholding international law,” he continued.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, said the comments represented blatant antisemitism and were “an outrageous combination of hatred and ignorance.”

“Comparing a country fighting against a murderous terror organization to the actions of the Nazis in the Holocaust is worthy of all condemnation,” he added. “It is sad that the president of Brazil has stooped to such a level of extreme distortion of the Holocaust.”

Brazilian Ambassador to Israel Frederico Meyer, right, and Foreign Minister Israel Katz tour at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Major Jewish organizations in Brazil also condemned Lula’s statements.

The Jewish state’s war with Hamas broke out on October 7, when the organization’s terrorists launched an unprecedented attack on Israel’s south, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 amid acts of brutality including sexual violence.

It is believed that 134 hostages are being held in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The number of hostages includes two civilians and two fallen soldiers who have been held by Hamas for nearly a decade.

Israel declared war on Hamas with the proclaimed objectives of dismantling the terrorist organization and getting the hostages back.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said Lula’s comments “show ignorance and antisemitism” and that Israel was “broken-hearted and shocked by the massacre of its citizens” on October 7.

“I wonder what Lula would have said if a terrorist organization had harmed Brazil that way,” he added. “Shame.”

Last month, the International Court of Justice held a hearing in the Hague after South Africa filed an application accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza and demanded the court order Israel to stop the fighting.

The case is expected to last years. The court refused South Africa’s request to take immediate measures to order Israel to halt its campaign, but said there was “plausibility” to Pretoria’s claim that Israel was in breach of certain elements of the Genocide Convention amid the war and said Jerusalem must make efforts to prevent harm to civilians.

Israel’s former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who served on the panel as Israel’s representative, argued that the ruling was based on “scant evidence.”

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