BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Israel has suspended security exports to Colombia in an escalating diplomatic spat over online messages by Colombia’s president comparing Israel’s siege of Gaza to the actions of Nazi Germany.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro has doubled down on his criticism of Israel and suggested that his country may need to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel, while his foreign minister has suggested Israel’s ambassador should leave the country.
In a statement published Sunday, Israel’s foreign ministry said that Petro’s recent statements on X, previously known as Twitter, “inflame antisemitism” and “threaten the safety of the Jewish community in Colombia.” The Israeli government said it called Colombia’s ambassador to a meeting in which she was informed that defense cooperation between the countries would be suspended.
Colombia currently has diplomatic relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and over the past two decades it has been one of Israel’s closes partners in Latin America.
The South American nation uses Israeli-built war planes and machine guns to fight drug cartels and rebel groups and both countries also signed a free trade agreement in 2020.
But the two nations have been less aligned since Petro took office last year as Colombia’s first leftist president.
The war of words between Petro and Israel’s Ambassador Gali Dagan started a week ago when Petro refused to condemn the Hamas raid on Israel, in which militants killed hundreds of civilians in their homes.
When Dagan urged Petro to speak about the “terrorist” attack, Colombia’s president replied with a message that “terrorism is killing innocent children in Palestine” and followed up with messages in which he accused Israel of turning Gaza into a “concentration camp.”
The comments comparing Israel’s military to the Nazis sparked criticism from Colombia’s Jewish community and also triggered a response from the U.S. State Department, which said last Thursday through its Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism that it was “shocked” to see Colombia’s president comparing “the Israeli government to Hitler’s genocidal regime.”
Over the weekend Petro wrote on X that Hamas had been “invented” by Israel’s intelligence services in order to divide Palestinians and “have an excuse” to “punish” them. He provided no proof to back his claims.
Dagan mocked Petro’s message with a sarcastic reply in which he wrote that his nation’s intelligence services had also “created” Colombia’s largest paramilitary group and that “Jews with big noses” still rule over the group.
On Monday, Colombian Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva wrote on his X account that Dagan should “leave” the country and apologize for his messages. Later however he wrote that Israel’s ambassador had not been expelled and that relations between both countries would be maintained if Israel so desired. “Respectful relations between states are always welcome” Leyva wrote.
Petro doubled down on his critiques of Israel over the weekend, describing its military campaign in Gaza as “genocide” and threatening to break off relations with the Jewish state.
“If we must suspend diplomatic relations with Israel, then that is what we will do” he wrote on X on Sunday. “You cannot insult the president of Colombia.”