Israel Loses a Friend-Σχέσεις Ισραήλ-Λατινικής Αμερικής

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By Alexandra Sharp

Colombia severed diplomatic relations with Israel on Thursday, becoming the third Latin American country to do so since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, 2023. “If Palestine dies, humanity dies,” Colombian President Gustavo Petro said during a May Day rally on Wednesday, in which he called Israel’s military campaign in Gaza “genocidal.”

Israel issued a sharp rebuke in response. Foreign Minister Israel Katz called Petro “antisemitic and hateful” and accused him of siding with Hamas.

Colombia once had a close relationship with Israel. In the late 1980s, Bogotá purchased Israeli Kfir fighter jets to use against remote guerrilla camps, ultimately helping the nation to debilitate the militant Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. For decades after, Colombia regularly engaged with Israel’s military, including buying Israeli-built warplanes and machine guns to tackle drug cartels and rebel groups. Both countries also signed a free trade agreement in 2020.

However, since coming to office in 2022, Petro—the country’s first leftist president—has shifted away from the position held by his conservative and centrist predecessors. After Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant compared Hamas fighters to “animals” in October 2023 and vowed to deny food, fuel, and electricity to Gaza, Petro compared Israel’s military operations to those of Nazi Germany. The United States and Israel quickly condemned his comments, and Israel pledged to stop all security exports to Colombia.

Later that month, Petro and Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a fellow leftist, recalled their countries’ respective ambassadors from Israel. In January, Petro endorsed South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, and Colombia filed a declaration of intervention to join the case in April, following Nicaragua’s similar motion. Colombia also suspended weapons purchases from Israel in February in response to Israeli troops opening fire near a group of Palestinians collecting food from an aid convoy in Gaza City, sparking a stampede that killed more than 100 people and injured 760 others.

Colombia’s decision to sever relations marks the latest Latin American shift away from Israel in a region with historic ties to Palestinian movements. Last October, Bolivia—which also has a left-wing government—broke ties with Israel, citing its “aggressive and disproportionate” offensive in Gaza. Days later, Honduras recalled its own ambassador, and in mid-November, Belize suspended diplomatic ties.

Numerous Latin American countries, including Colombia, have called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. But discussions to secure a cease-fire agreement remain ongoing. Israel’s war cabinet convened on Thursday to debate the proposed truce, which would include two phases to release hostages, a 40-day cease-fire, and increased aid deliveries to Gaza. Senior ministers also discussed Israel’s potential offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Hamas officials said on Thursday that they are still discussing the truce’s terms and will send a delegation to Egypt “as soon as possible” to finalize talks.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro gives a speech as part of the 2024 International Workers’ Day in Bogotá, Colombia, on May 1.Diego Cuevas/Getty Images

Foreign Policy

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