Israel-Colombia spat deepens, as Israel stops arms sales and Bogotá threatens to cut ties
Colombian President Gustavo Petro gives a speech in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 8, 2023.
Photo: Juancho Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Jacob Kessler

(JTA) — Israel paused arms sales to Colombia over what Israel’s foreign ministry called Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s “hostile and anti-Semitic statements,” and Petro responded by threatening to suspend all diplomatic ties with Israel.

Since Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, Petro — Colombia’s first left-wing president in decades — has continuously written pro-Palestinian posts on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter, and argued with Jewish leaders.

In recent days, he has said Hamas is the “invention of Mossad to divide the Palestinian people” and compared Israel’s bombing of Gaza to Nazism.

On Sunday, Lior Haiat, an Israeli foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, posted on X that Israel would be stopping all security exports to Colombia as a “first measure.” Colombia and Israel signed a free trade agreement in 2020, and Colombia’s army currently uses armored vehicles, machine guns and other weapons provided by Israel in its fight against drug cartels in the country.

Haiat’s statement also noted that Colombia’s ambassador to Israel, Margarita Manjarrez, was summoned for a conversation about the president’s statements on the conflict.

In response, Petro responded on X with a tweet currently pinned to the top of his profile, saying “If we have to suspend foreign relations with Israel, we suspend them. We do not support genocides.”

In the same tweet, he added: “Someday the army and government of Israel will ask us for forgiveness for what their men did in our land, unleashing the genocide. I will hug them and they will cry for the murder of Auschwitz and Gaza, and for the Colombian Auschwitz.’

Israel’s ambassador to Colombia, Gali Dagan, has also been feuding with Petro and other pro-Palestinian Colombians on X. In response to Petro’s claim that Hamas is an invention of Israel, Dagan sarcastically wrote: “It is true, Mr. President @petrogustavo, as you wrote in this trill, indeed #Hamas is an invention of the Mossad. However, I would like to share with you additional information from our intelligence services, which are some of the best in the world: The Elders of Zion founded the Gulf Clan. There are still Jews, with large, aquiline noses, who command the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.”

In response to Dagan’s comments, Colombian Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán wrote on X: “The history of universal diplomacy will record as a milestone the senseless rudeness of Israel’s ambassador in Colombia towards President Gustavo. Shame on him. He should at least apologize and leave.”

Durán later seemed to backtrack this tweet as some interpreted it as an order for ambassador Dagan to leave. “I have not said that the Israeli ambassador is expelled,” he tweeted. Durán elaborated that his only intention was to call for “respect” for President Petro.

Marcos Peckel, the director of Colombia’s Jewish communal organization, wrote “We regret the statements of the President @petrogustavo on X. The Jewish community of Colombia will continue working to maintain the historic ties between Colombia and Israel that have brought so much benefit to our country.”

U.S. government officials have also commented on Petro’s tweets.

“We strongly condemn President Petro’s statements and call on him to condemn Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, for its barbaric murder of Israeli men, women and children,” said Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

In a statement, the American Jewish Committee called Petro’s threat to cut ties “both unfortunate and potentially dangerous.”

“The president’s antisemitic rhetoric can put Colombia’s Jews in danger at a time when their safety should be of paramount concern,” the group wrote.

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