Brazil permanently withdraws its ambassador from Israel

By May 31, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – The Brazilian government announced on Wednesday that it has permanently removed its ambassador to Israel.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s decision to remove Ambassador Frederico Meyer comes days after an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah killed 45 Palestinian civilians that were living in a refugee encampment.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the tragic error, attributing it to a miscalculated airstrike intended for Hamas militants.

Although the withdrawal of Ambassador Meyer does not signify a full-scale diplomatic rupture between Brazil and Israel, the action is perceived as one of Brazil’s most pronounced rebukes of Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza.

Professor Denilde Holzhacker

Denilde Holzhacker, an International Relations professor at the Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing (ESPM) in São Paulo, told Brazil Reports that the diplomatic move should not come as a surprise.

“It signals Brazil’s discontent with Netanyahu’s government and reinforces the pressure that has been mounting. Practically, it is more of a political and diplomatic gesture, not a total breakdown of relations,” Holzhacker stated.

Holzhacker also noted that the removal of the ambassador could be reassessed should there be a change in Israel’s government or a shift in policy.

“Diplomacy sought a solution that expresses Brazil’s dissatisfaction with the Israeli government but allows for future shifts in governance or internal changes in Israel to restore the partnership and relationship,” she explained.

Meyer will now join Brazil’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva, serving as the country’s representative at the organization’s Disarmament Conference. Meanwhile, the Brazilian embassy in Israel will continue operations under the leadership of chargé d’affaires Fábio Farias.

According to Sidney Leite, an international relations expert and academic coordinator at Faculdades Integradas Rio Branco, Brazil is making a mistake by permanently withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

Professor Sidney Leite

“It is simply not feasible for such an important and strategically significant embassy for Brazilian interests to remain vacant. One must not confuse a political-ideological clash between leaders with the broader, more crucial relationship between two states, particularly two states that share a notable degree of proximity”, he told Brazil Reports.

Leite also believes that the Brazilian government’s decision does not contribute to resolving the Middle East conflict.

“I see the transfer of our ambassador in Israel — the competent ambassador in Israel –, to Geneva as an attempt to mark a position of the Brazilian government as a much more media action than an effective move that can contribute to peace in the region and that can put into practice the good, excellent diplomacy by Itamaraty (Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).”

Brazil-Israel strained relations

Diplomatic relations between Brazil and Israel have been deteriorating since the beginning of the year, with the latest incident marking a peak in tensions. In February, President Lula was declared persona non grata by the Israeli government after he compared Israel’s military operations in Gaza to the Holocaust.

On a visit to Ethiopia in February, President Lula compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to the Holocaust
(Ricardo Stuckert / Presidency of Brazil courtesy)

“What is happening in Gaza and to the Palestinian people is unprecedented in history. Actually, it has happened before: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews,” Lula remarked at the time.

On X, Netanyahu condemned Lula’s statements as shameful and serious, accusing him of undermining the Jewish people’s right to self-defense.

In addition to declaring Lula unwelcome, on February 19, Israel summoned Ambassador Meyer to express institutional condemnation of the Brazilian president’s remarks. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, himself a descendant of Holocaust survivors, took Meyer to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, reinforcing that Israel would neither forgive nor forget Lula’s words and demanded a formal apology, which was never issued.

The Brazilian government viewed the visit to the museum as an attempt to publicly embarrass its ambassador and on the same day, February 19, ordered Meyer’s return to Brazil.

On May 24, Meyer returned to Israel, although it’s not clear why, since five days later the Brazilian government announced his departure to Geneva.

Frederico Meyer, former Brazilian Ambassador to Israel
(Geraldo Magela/Agência Senado courtesy)

A seasoned diplomat, 71-year-old Meyer has served as Brazil’s ambassador to Israel since May 2023. His previous postings include ambassadorships in Kazakhstan and Morocco, and diplomatic missions in Iraq, Russia, Switzerland, Cuba, and Guyana.

Before arriving in Tel Aviv, he held the post of consul in Guangzhou, China.