Lula recalls Israel envoy amid escalating clash over genocide remarks

Brazil recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv for talks on Monday after Israel’s foreign minister declared Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva persona non grata for condemning the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

Israeli state broadcaster Kanreported that Lula recalled Brazilian Ambassador Frederico Meyer amid the escalating row over comments the leftist leader made over the weekend in Ethiopia. The Brazilian news site Carta Capitalreported that Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira called Israeli Ambassador Daniel Zonshine for a meeting on Monday.

This, after Lula told attendees at the African Union (A.U.) summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday that “what’s happening in the Gaza Strip isn’t a war, it’s a genocide.”

“It’s not a war of soldiers against soldiers,” Lula continued. “It’s a war between a highly prepared army and women and children.”

“It is important to remember that in 2010 Brazil was the first country to recognize the Palestinian state,” he said. “What is happening in the Gaza Strip and with the Palestinian people did not exist at any other historical moment. In fact, it existed when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Lula asked: “Who will help rebuild those houses that were destroyed? Who will repay the lives of 30,000 people who have died, 70,000 who are injured? Who will return the lives of the children who died without knowing why they were dying?”

According to Palestinian officials, at least 29,092 Palestinians—mostly women and children—have been killed, 69,028 wounded, and more than 7,000 others left missing and presumed dead under the rubble as a result of Israel’s 136-day assault on the besieged coastal enclave of 2.3 million people, around 90% of whom have been forcibly displaced.

Lula’s remarks were well received by A.U. summit attendees, who issued a statement condemning Israel’s “brutal” war on Gaza.

“Gaza is being completely annihilated and its people are deprived of all of their rights,” declared A.U. Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, who added that he “condemns the Israeli operation, which is unparalleled in the history of humanity.”

Mahamat underscored his support for South Africa as it leads a Gaza genocide case at the International Court of Justice, which found in a provisional ruling last month that Israel is “plausibly” committing genocide against the Palestinian people.

Israeli leaders were incensed by Lula’s remarks. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said da Silva had “crossed a line.”

“The words of the president of Brazil are shameful and alarming,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is a trivialization of the Holocaust and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called Lula’s comments “shameful and grave.”

Katz summoned Meyer for a reprimand at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where the Jewish Brazilian diplomat—whose country sent 20,000 troops to fight the Nazis in World War II—was paraded before a list of Jews killed by the Third Reich.

“We will not forget and we will not forgive,” Katz told Meyer. “In my name, and in the name of all Israeli citizens, tell President Lula that he is persona non grata in Israel until he retracts his statements.”

Persona non grata is Latin for “unwelcome person.” Legally, “it refers to the practice of a state prohibiting a diplomat from entering the country as a diplomat, or censuring a diplomat already resident in the country for conduct unbecoming of the status of a diplomat,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Celso Amorim, a former foreign and defense minister who now serves as Lula’s chief adviser for international affairs, called Katz’s declaration “absurd.”

“It only increases Israel’s isolation,” Amorim told Brazilian journalist Andréia Sadi. “Lula is sought all over the world and at the moment, Israel is persona non grata.”

Palestine defenders in Brazil and beyond embraced Israel’s rebuke of Lula. The Arab Palestinian Federation of Brazil said on social media that it’s “an honor for Lula’s biography” to be “persona non grata in the colonial occupation that calls itself a country.”