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July 30, 2014 6:00 pm

Israel Says Latin American Countries Pulling Ambassadors Over Gaza is ‘Encouragement for Hamas, a Recognized Terror Organization Around the World’

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Israel's Deputy foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (left) with newly installed President of Paraguay, businessman Horacio Cortes, on August 15, 2013. Photo: Israel Foreign Ministry.

Israel's Deputy foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (left) with newly installed President of Paraguay, businessman Horacio Cortes, on August 15, 2013. Photo: Israel Foreign Ministry.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said the recalling of a group of Latin American ambassadors from their posts in the Jewish State in protest of the Israel Defense Force’s Operation Protective Edge to stop the rocket and tunnel attacks from Gaza “constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world.”

On Wednesday, El Salvador, Peru and Chile announced they would recall their ambassadors for consultations, a diplomatic face-slap that could be interpreted as being one step away from breaking diplomatic ties. The three countries follow similar announcements by Ecuador and Brazil.

In a statement, Israel said the Latin American countries would have been “better advised to promote the international move intended to assist Israel in its efforts to defend innocent civilians and instate a durable ceasefire with the demilitarization of Gaza.”

“Israel expects countries who oppose terrorism to act responsibly and not to hand terrorists a prize,” the ministry said. “So far, every time Israel accepted plans for establishing a ceasefire and restoring calm, it was countered by Hamas’s sustained rocket fire.”

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In response to the decision, the American Jewish Committee, which hosts Passover seders for diplomatic representatives in countries around the world, urged the Latin American countries to reconsider. AJC Executive Director David Harris said, “There simply is no rational reason for such a punitive action against the only truly democratic nation in the Middle East.”

The AJC noted that as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela convened in Caracas for trade talks at the Mercosur summit, four of the Mercosur official members “singled out Israel for criticism, while astonishingly not even mentioning Hamas.”

Paraguay, which has recently strengthened its relations with Israel, notably, was not party to the joint  statement.

Harris asked, “What would any of these Latin American countries do if their citizens were subjected to the kind of sustained rocket and missile attacks, and terrorist infiltrations via tunnels, that more than half of Israel’s population has been forced to endure from Hamas-controlled Gaza?”

He said, “Recalling ambassadors will not end Hamas’ terrorist actions, and for certain will not advance the cause of peace. To the contrary, it will only complicate still further the quest for a durable peace agreement.”

“The notion that Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay would issue a joint statement with Venezuela voicing concern about human rights anywhere would be laughable, if it weren’t so terribly tragic,” Harris said. “Caracas has been one of the main defenders of Syrian President Assad, who is responsible for some 170,000 deaths and millions of refugees, and is a staunch ally of Iran, the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world, including at least two deadly attacks in Argentina in 1992 and 1994. Shame!”

Indeed, on Wednesday, the U.S. revoked visas of several high-raking Venezuelans for “arbitrary detentions” and “excessive force” and for repressing dissent. On Monday, the Netherlands refused a U.S. request to extradite Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal, the former intelligence chief, from Aruba. Carvajal is wanted by the U.S. on drug trafficking charges with the FARC, the armed paramilitary terror movement that controls large parts of cocaine producing regions in Colombia and neighboring countries.

Last week, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor struck back at Brazil, the largest country in this new protest bloc.

“This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” Palmor said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”

Rather than let up, Palmor directly addressed accusations that Israel’s military response was out of proportion to Hamas’s thousands of rocket attacks in the past three weeks, and the months that preceded escalation of the conflict, framing his response in the context of Brazil’s “disproportionate” loss to Germany in the World Cup, which Brazil hosted this month.

In an interview with Brazil’s Jornal Nacional TVflagged by The Washington Post, Palmor said, “Israel’s response is perfectly proportioned in accordance with international law.”

“This is not football,” Palmor said. “In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1 it’s disproportionate. Sorry to say, but not so in real life and under international law.”

Brazil, which has about 125,000 Jews out of a population of almost 200 million people, was one of 29 countries on the 46-member United Nations Human Rights Council that voted to investigate allegations of Israeli human rights violations in Gaza.

The vote, in a special session last week, was called “destructive” and lacking “any semblance of balance” by Keith Harper, UNHRC Ambassador from the U.S., the only country on the 46-member commission to vote against launching an investigation into war crimes by Israel in Gaza. France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Estonia, and Romania abstained from the vote.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called out Hamas for its human rights violations against Israel, and the people of Gaza.

Netanyahu said, “This use of human shields is extraordinarily cynical. It’s grotesque. It’s inhuman. But what is equally grotesque is that Israel was condemned in the Human Rights Council. It’s a travesty of justice; it’s a travesty of fairness; it’s a travesty of common sense; it’s a travesty of truth.”

“We’re responding in our own way by targeting the rocketeers and seeking to ferret out these terrorists who are hiding behind civilians while firing at our civilians,” Netanyahu said. “This is a double war crime, and naturally it’s made more difficult for us to fight this criminality because as I’ve just shown you, the terrorists are firing rockets from schools, from mosques, from hospitals, from heavily civilian populations; and we have to try and are doing our best to minimize civilian casualties.”

The protest move by the Latin American bloc was also in contrast to Israel’s plans to expand trade with the region.

In May, Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a three-year, NIS 50 million ($15 million) plan to expand economic ties with the region. The plan includes reopening an Israeli embassy in Paraguay; creating a joint agricultural research fund with Mexico; pushing forward with financial protocols with Brazil, Chile and Colombia; and cooperation in industrial research and development to be financed by Israel and the Inter-American Development Bank, with each contributing $2 million for the work.

In 2012, Israeli exports to Pacific Alliance states – Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Costa Rica – was more than $1 billion.

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