Brazil’s reluctance to accept an Argentine born pro-settler politician as Israeli ambassador has triggered a diplomatic clash and concerns it could seriously damage future relations between the two countries.
The appointment four months ago of Dani Dayan, a former head of the Jewish colony movement, did not go down well with Brazil’s government, which has supported Palestinian statehood in recent years and has a numerous Arab-Palestine community.
Most world powers deem the colonies on Palestinian land as illegal.
Israel's last ambassador, Reda Mansour, left Brasilia last week and the Israeli government said on Sunday that Brazil risked degrading bilateral relations if Dayan was not allowed to succeed him.
“The State of Israel will leave the level of diplomatic relations with Brazil at the secondary level if the appointment of Dani Dayan is not confirmed,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Channel 10 TV, saying Dayan would remain the sole nominee.
She said Israel would lobby Brasilia through the Brazilian Jewish community, confidants of President Dilma Rousseff and direct appeals from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Foreign Ministry will use all the tools at its disposal to have Dani Dayan’s appointment go through,” she said. “The state of Israel will not accept the phenomenon of disqualifying an ambassador over ideological background.”
Brazilian government officials declined to comment on whether Rousseff will accept the nomination of the Argentine-born Dayan. But one senior Foreign Ministry official said: “I do not see that happening.”
The official, said Israel would have to choose a different envoy because the choice of Dayan has further worsened relations that turned sour in 2010 when Brazil decided to recognize Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in a 1967 war.
Israel quit Gaza in 2005 but claims occupied Jerusalem as its “indivisible capital” and wants to keep swathes of West Bank colonies under any eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.
Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva, angered Israel by drawing Brazil closer to Iran.
Tensions rose last year when an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman called Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf” after Brasilia recalled its ambassador from Israel to protest a military offensive in Gaza.
Brazil’s government was also angered by the announcement of Dayan’s appointment by Netanyahu in a Twitter message on August 5 before Brasilia had been informed, let alone agreed to the new envoy as is the diplomatic norm.
Over the weekend, Dayan went on the offensive to defend his nomination, telling Israeli media that Netanyahu’s government was not doing enough to press Brazil to accept him.
Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said ties with Brazil were “good and important”, noting Israel’s recent opening of a new consulate in Brazil and the business opportunities for Israeli security firms during the Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro in August.
Israel has a considerable role in providing avionics technology for Brazil’s aerospace and defense industry.
However Celso Amorim, a former Brazilian foreign and defense minister, said that the diplomatic dispute over Dayan’s appointment showed that “it is time the Brazilian armed forces reduced their dependence on Israel.”
Other figures in Brazil have also spoken out. Lawmaker Carlos Marun, in remarks reported by the Ynet website, said back in August that Dayan’s proposed appointment was an “insult.”
“We can’t accept such provocation. It would be like Germany sending to Brazil as an ambassador a former concentration camp guard, like Chile sending as an ambassador to Brazil a prison guard from the dictatorship, or South Africa sending a prison torturer from the apartheid period”.
Articles in the Brazilian press have said that Palestinian officials have now involved themselves in the case, with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Saeb Erekat reportedly having told Brasilia that the country would ,lose trust if it agrees to accept Dayan.
One story in the Folha de S. Paulo daily earlier this month however said that Brazil’s military is actively lobbying for Dayan’s approval, saying further delays to the process will hurt the crucial transfer of military technology.