Presidents of Colombia, Bolivia back Brazilian counterpart’s Israel-Hitler comparison

Gustavo Petro and Luis Acre tweet approval of Lula’s comments; South American leaders began accusing Israel of ‘crimes against humanity’ shortly after October 7

Handout picture released by the press office of Colombia's then president-elect Gustavo Petro (R) shows him meeting with Bolivia's President Luis Arce (L) before his inauguration ceremony in Bogota, on August 7, 2022. (Gustavo Petro's Press Office/AFP)
Handout picture released by the press office of Colombia's then president-elect Gustavo Petro (R) shows him meeting with Bolivia's President Luis Arce (L) before his inauguration ceremony in Bogota, on August 7, 2022. (Gustavo Petro's Press Office/AFP)

After comparing Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza to Hitler’s treatment of Jews, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday received the backing of his counterparts in Colombia and Bolivia, two fellow South American countries that have been harshly critical of the Jewish state.

“In Gaza there is a genocide and thousands of children, women and elderly civilians are cowardly murdered. Lula has only spoken the truth and truth must be defended or barbarism will annihilate us,” Colombia’s Gustavo Petro wrote on X.

Bolivia’s Luis Arce also took to the platform to express solidarity with Lula, who he said was merely “telling the truth about the genocide that is committed against the brave Palestinian people,” adding that “history will not forgive those who are indifferent to this barbarity.”

Lula triggered a diplomatic meltdown with Israel on Sunday, when the self-styled voice of the Global South, now in his second stint as president after weathering charges of graft, compared Israel’s war in Gaza to the Holocaust.

“What’s happening in the Gaza Strip isn’t a war, it’s a genocide,” Lula told reporters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 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 politician alleged, echoing Hamas propaganda, before going 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.”

In response, Foreign Minister Israel Katz — a child of Holocaust survivors — summoned the Brazilian ambassador, Frederico Meyer, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Monday, and told him Israel “will not forget and we will not forgive” Lula’s comments, using a phrase Israelis often reserve for the horrors of the Holocaust itself.

“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,” which the foreign minister called a “a serious antisemitic attack.”

Brazil said it does not intend to retract Lula’s comments, Reuters reported Monday, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of internal discussions.

Accompanied by Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, left, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, center, talks with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, at G77+China summit in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, September 16, 2023.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

On Tuesday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira called Katz’s comments “unacceptable in their nature and lying in their content” as well as “outrageous.”

“For a foreign ministry to address a head of state from a friendly country in this way is unusual and revolting,” Vieira told Reuters and another news agency at the G20 summit, which is being held in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It is a shameful page in the history of Israel’s diplomacy,” said Vieira, whose country currently holds G20’s rotating presidency. He added that Israel is trying to create a smokescreen to cover up what is happening in Gaza.

The Israeli government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Vieira’s remarks.

Following Meyer’s dressing down at Yad Vashem, the Brazilian ambassador was recalled, and the Israeli ambassador in Brazil, Daniel Zonshine, was summoned for a reprimand by Brazil’s foreign ministry.

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)

According to a diplomatic source, Vieira and Zonshine had a “harsh, but appropriate” conversation, as Vieira “demonstrated dissatisfaction” with Jerusalem’s actions, including the ambassador’s being forced to listen to a statement in Hebrew “without an interpreter, without knowing what was being said.”

It was unclear how long Meyer will stay in Brazil, and how the move will impact diplomatic relations between the two countries. Reuters reported Tuesday that Vieira said Brazil’s relationship with Israel will survive nonetheless.

Lula had described Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught on southern Israel as a “terrorist” act, but has since grown vocally critical of Israel’s response. Other leftist governments in South America followed suit: Bolivia cut diplomatic ties with Israel on October 31, accusing the Jewish state of perpetrating “crimes against humanity” in its military response to the terror group’s shock assault, and Chile and Colombia recalled their ambassadors.

On October 16, nine days into the war, Colombia’s foreign minister demanded that the Israeli ambassador, Gali Dagan, leave the drug-ridden country after she criticized its president for comparing the Israel Defense Forces to Nazis.

The war broke out when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel on October 7 to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take 253 hostages of all ages, while committing numerous atrocities and weaponizing sexual violence on a mass scale.

Vowing to destroy the Palestinian terror group and return the hostages, Israel launched a massive airstrike and ground campaign, which has seen over a million people displaced, many of whom face severe risk of starvation.

According to the Strip’s Hamas-controlled health ministry, over 29,000 Palestinian have been killed in the hostilities. The figure, which cannot be independently verified, does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, of whom Hamas says it has lost about 6,000 while the IDF claims to have killed twice that many.

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