Israel says Brazil's president unwelcome until he apologizes for comparing Gaza war to Holocaust

FILE - Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, arrives for a German and Brazil governments meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. Israel on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, condemned Brazil's president for comparing the situation in Gaza to the Holocaust, accusing him of being antisemitic and trivializing the Naza genocide of European Jews during World War II. The outcry further strained relations between the countries, which have deteriorated since President Lula returned to office last year. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File) (Markus Schreiber, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JERUSALEM – Israel’s foreign minister said Monday that Brazil’s president would not be welcome in Israel until he apologizes for comments he made comparing Israel’s war in Gaza to the Holocaust, accusing him of a “very serious antisemitic attack.”

On Sunday, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva 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.” Lula made the comments while speaking to reporters at the African Union summit in Ethiopia.

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Foreign Minister Israel Katz summoned the Brazilian ambassador to Israel’s national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem on Monday for a reprimand.

“The things that Lula said when he compared the righteous war of the State of Israel against Hamas, which murdered and massacred the Jews, and Hitler and the Nazis is shameful and unacceptable,” Katz said.

Following Israel's reaction to Lula's comments, Brazil on Monday recalled the country's ambassador to Israel, Frederico Meyer, for consultations.

Brazil's foreign affairs minister Mauro Vieira also summoned the Israeli ambassador Daniel Zonshine “in light of the seriousness of this morning’s statements by the Israeli government,” according to a statement from his ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Lula’s comments “trivialized the Holocaust” and “crossed a red line."

Such comments strike a raw nerve in Israel, a country established as a haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. Israel says its war in Gaza, launched in response to a deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7, is defensive and rejects any comparisons of its offensive to the Holocaust.

Lula’s comments came after leaders at the African Union summit on Saturday condemned Israel’s offensive in Gaza and called for its immediate end.

In the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostage. Militants still hold around 130 hostages, a fourth of them believed to be dead. Most of the others were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November.

The war has killed at least 29,092 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Around 80% of Gaza’s population have been driven from their homes, and a quarter face starvation.

The heavy death toll and widespread damage have led to mounting criticism of Israel and growing calls for a cease-fire.

Celso Amorim, former foreign affairs minister and a special adviser to Lula, told local news outlet G1 that Israel’s reaction was “absurd.”

“It only increases Israel’s isolation. Lula is sought after all over the world and at the moment it’s Israel that’s (persona) non grata,” Amorim said.

Brazil’s presidential palace did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

First lady Rosângela da Silva, Lula's wife, said she was proud of her husband for defending peace and the right to life for women and children. “The speech referred to the genocidal government and not to the Jewish people, let's be honest in our analysis,” she said.

“Netanyahu should be concerned about the rejection he arouses in the world and in his own country, before trying to reprimand anyone who denounces his policy of exterminating the Palestinian people. He has no moral or political authority to point the finger at anyone,” Gleisi Hoffmann, president of Lula’s Workers’ Party, told Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Last week, Lula met with the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, before participating in the African Union summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

After the meeting, Brazil’s presidential palace said: “Lula condemned Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians, indicated agreement with the need for a cease-fire and reiterated the Brazilian government’s commitment to the two-state solution — with an economically viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security with Israel, within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders."


Hughes reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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