Israel bars Brazilian president after Lula compares Gaza war to the Holocaust


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (JTA) — A major rift between Brazil and Israel has opened up after Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, likened Israel’s war in Gaza to the Holocaust.

Ties between the two countries became strained last year when da Silva, a left-wing politician known as Lula who has long been a critic of Israel, narrowly defeated Jair Bolsanaro, a right-wing ally of Israel, to regain the presidency. Lula had previously been president from 2003 to 2010, a period that included the first trip by a Brazilian head of state to Jerusalem since 1876.

Now, Israel has banned Lula from visiting and Brazil has recalled its ambassador amid the fallout over the president’s comments, made during the 37th African Union Summit in Ethiopia on Sunday.

There, Lula accused Israel of committing genocide and waging a war against “women and children” in Gaza.

“What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has no parallel in other historical moments. In fact, it did exist when Hitler decided to kill the Jews,” Lula said while speaking to reporters. “It’s not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It’s a war between a highly prepared army and women and children.”

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said on Monday that the death toll in Gaza, home to more than 2 million Palestinians, had crossed 29,000. The figures do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Israel said on Monday that it estimated that it had killed 12,000 Hamas terrorists in Gaza, while allies of the terror group said it believes it has lost 6,000 fighters.

Lula, whose foreign minister denounced Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel at the time, also emphasized the importance of condemning Hamas’ attacks targeting Israeli civilians.

The Israeli government responded swiftly and harshly to Lula’s remarks.

“We will not forget nor forgive,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz. “It is a serious antisemitic attack. In my name and the name of the citizens of Israel: Tell President Lula that he is persona non grata in Israel until he takes it back.”

On X, formerly Twitter, Katz wrote that Israel has a “right to defend itself” and that Brazil’s ambassador to Israel would be summoned to his office for a reprimand.

Katz reportedly summoned Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for a formal reprimand, delivered at the Yad Vashem, Israel’s national memorial to the two-thirds of European Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Afterwards, Lula recalled the ambassador, Federico Meyer, to Brazil, though the Brazilian embassy in Israel remains open.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also tweeted condemnation of the Brazilian president. Netanyahu called Lula’s words “shameful” and “serious” and accused him of “trivializing” the Holocaust.

“Comparing Israel to the Nazi Holocaust and Hitler is crossing a red line,” Netanyahu wrote. “Israel fights for its defense and securing its future until complete victory and it does so while upholding international law.”

Meanwhile, Hamas embraced Lula’s remarks and conveyed gratitude to the Brazilian president for drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s Jewish umbrella organization, in a statement called Lula’s comparison “unfounded.” Its president, Claudio Lottenberg, said in a TV interview that he had visited Yad Vashem with Lula and believed that Lula had misspoken in Ethiopia.

“President Lula is very sensitive to everything that happened in relation to the Holocaust,” Lottenberg told Globonews. “Therefore, when he compares things that are incomparable, we realize that this is done extemporaneously.”

Lottenberg also said in the interview that he was not sure Israel needed to deliver an official reprimand to the Brazilian ambassador.

“I think all of this should be handled a little more maturely,” he said. “For me, it was enough for the president to reposition himself. And it’s so simple: how many of us, at times, end up exceeding certain limits, saying things that we often have to take back. But I confess it was a disappointment.”

Sources with knowledge of the diplomatic rift told Israeli media that Brazil does not plan to walk back or apologize for Lula’s remarks, the condition Israel set for allowing him to visit in the future.

Lula has drawn criticism from Israel and Jews in the past. In 2009, he warmly welcomed former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a notorious Holocaust denier whose regime persecuted minorities and critics, for a visit that drew international criticism.

One year later, Lula made his historic trip to Israel. However, he refused to visit Theodor Herzl’s grave on part of the itinerary for visiting foreign officials in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the father of Zionism. Days after, he laid a wreath at Yasser Arafat’s grave in Ramallah. In the final month of his administration, his government officially recognized a Palestinian state.

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