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Brazil’s president withdraws his country’s ambassador to Israel after criticizing the war in Gaza

By ELÉONORE HUGHES, Associated Press
Published: May 30, 2024, 8:47am

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil withdrew its ambassador to Israel on Wednesday after months of tensions between the two countries over the war in Gaza, the latest repercussion from a South American nation over Israel’s military campaign in the Palestinian territory.

The move was announced in Brazil’s official gazette.

Israel’s foreign ministry said no official message has yet been received from the Brazilian government on the matter. However, following the media reports, the Brazilian chargé d’affaires was summoned to appear at the ministry on Thursday for a meeting.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been a frequent critic of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which he compared to the Holocaust earlier this year. That led Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz to summon the Brazilian ambassador, Frederico Meyer, to the national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem for a public reprimand.

At the time, Lula called Meyer home. However, Wednesday’s action represented an escalation and a diplomatic downgrade, with the Brazilian Embassy in Israel still in place but without an ambassador in the post.

According to an official at Brazil’s foreign ministry, Wednesday’s removal comes in response to Meyer’s humiliation by Israel’s top diplomat. The official, who has knowledge of the situation, spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

“Any appointment of a new Brazilian ambassador to Israel will be announced in due course in a press release. For the time being, the Brazilian Embassy in Tel Aviv continues to function under the leadership of the chargé d’affaires,” Brazil’s foreign ministry said.

Meyer has been transferred to Geneva and will join Brazil’s permanent mission to the United Nations and other international organizations.

A pro-Israel group in the country, the Israeli Confederation of Brazil, said on social media that it “regretted” the move.

“The Brazilian government’s unilateral measure moves us away from the Brazilian diplomatic tradition of balance and seeking dialogue and prevents Brazil from exercising its desired role as mediator and protagonist in the Middle East,” it said.

The war in Gaza, now in its eighth month, began when the Palestinian militant Hamas group burst into southern Israel in a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 civilians and taking around 250 hostage.

Israel’s offensive in response to that attack has killed at least 36,096 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its count. Israel says it has killed 15,000 militants.

In February, Brazil’s Lula said that “what is happening in the Gaza Strip and to the Palestinian people hasn’t been seen in any other moment in history. Actually, it did when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Danielle Ayres, an international relations professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, said Wednesday’s action was “symbolic” and that by stopping short of severing diplomatic ties, Lula indicated he wants to maintain relations while strengthening the Brazilian government’s position of “vehemently criticizing the way Israel is responding” to the Oct. 7 attack.

Separately, Brazil’s foreign ministry welcomed this week’s formal recognition of a Palestinian state by Ireland, Norway and Spain. Brazil recognized a Palestinian state in 2010. Tuesday’s coordinated effort by the three Western European nations added to international pressure on Israel, which condemned the diplomatic move.

“By urging all other countries that have not yet done so to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, Brazil reaffirms its defense of the two-state solution, with an independent and viable state of Palestine living side by side with Israel, in peace and security,” the ministry said in a statement.

Israel says its war in Gaza is a defensive action triggered by Hamas’ unprecedented assault and rejects any comparisons of its offensive to the Holocaust.

Earlier this month, Colombia broke diplomatic relations with Israel. Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro had previously suspended purchases of weapons from Israel and had also compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to those of Nazi Germany.

Also in the region, Bolivia and Belize have also severed diplomatic relations with Israel over the Israel-Hamas war.

Associated Press writers David Biller in Rio de Janeiro and Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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