Middle East

Brazil-Israel row escalates as Lula declared ‘persona non grata’ after Holocaust remarks

Katz summoned Brazil’s ambassador Frederico Meyer for a meeting Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem.

Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Israeli Army via AFP

In a tit-for-tat move, the Brazilian foreign ministry then said it had also summoned the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshine, for a meeting later that same day, and recalled Meyer from Tel Aviv for consultations.

According to a diplomatic source, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira and Zonshine had a “harsh, but appropriate” conversation, as Vieira “demonstrated dissatisfaction” with the treatment of Meyer and Lula in Jerusalem over the situation.

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That included Meyer being forced to listen to a statement in Hebrew “without an interpreter, without knowing what was being said,” the source added.

Veteran leftist Lula, 78, is a prominent voice for the Global South and his country currently holds the rotating presidency of the G20.

His comments came as Brazil prepares to host a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting Wednesday and Thursday, when top diplomats including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gather in Rio de Janeiro, with the divisive Gaza conflict high on the agenda.

The war started October 7, when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack that left about 1,160 people dead in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an Agence France-Presse tally of official Israeli figures.

Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages – 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,092 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

In the aftermath of Hamas’s attack, Lula condemned it as a “terrorist” act.

But he has since grown vocally critical of Israel’s response.

He has faced backlash at home for his latest comments on the conflict, which came during a press conference on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

The Brazil-Israel Institute called his statements “vulgar”, and warned they risk “fuelling antisemitism”.

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The Israelite Confederation of Brazil called them a “perverse distortion of reality (that) offends the memory of Holocaust victims and their descendants”.

Hitler’s Germany systematically exterminated six million Jews during the Holocaust – an estimated one-third of world Jewry.

After World War II, the newly founded state of Israel took in hundreds of thousands of survivors.

Lula’s conservative opponents also pounced on his remarks, which outraged many in the powerful Evangelical Christian community, which is staunchly pro-Israel.

“Lula not only showed his ignorance of history, he showed the world the hatred in his heart against the state of Israel,” lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro, posted on X.

Political allies meanwhile rushed to Lula’s defence. First Lady Rosangela “Janja” da Silva, a long-time member of his Workers’ Party, said his comments “defended … women and children, who represent the majority of victims” in the conflict.

“His statements referred to the genocidal (Israeli) government, not the Jewish people,” she wrote on X.


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