Israel calls Brazil a ‘diplomatic dwarf’ – and then brings up World Cup humiliation


A Brazil fan covers his face after the devastating World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany in Brazil on July 8. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

In a statement on Wednesday, Brazil condemned what it said was a  "disproportionate use of force" by Israel in its Gaza Strip offensive by pulling out its ambassador from Tel Aviv for "consultation." The country is the second country to recall its ambassador from Israel; Ecuador did so earlier in the week.

At first, the official reaction from Israel appeared sanguine. "Brazil is a friend, but we think its position is not balanced," Israel's general consul in São Paulo, Yoel Barnea, said according to the Wall Street Journal, adding that Israel should have a right to defend itself from the thousands of missiles being fired at it by Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

Things soon took a turn for the worse. “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Thursday, the Jerusalem Post reports. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”

That insult wasn't the worst that Israel had reserved for Brazil, however. In an interview with the Brazilian media, Palmor brought up the most humiliating moment in recent Brazilian history – this summer's stunning World Cup semifinal loss to Germany.

"Israel's response is perfectly proportioned in accordance with international law," Palmor said in an interview with the Jornal Nacional TV show late Thursday. "This is not football. In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1 it's disproportionate. Sorry to say, but not so in real life and under international law."

Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, hit back at the "dwarf" insult. "We are one of 11 countries worldwide that have diplomatic relations with all UN members, and have a history of cooperation for peace and international actions for peace," Figueiredo said in an interview with CBN radio. "If there are any diplomatic dwarfs, Brazil is not one of them."

There doesn't appear to have been a comment on the 7-1 jibe yet.

Brazil, which has a relatively large Jewish population, has historically had good relationships with Israel. However, its 2010 decision to recognize a Palestinian state hurt relations between the two nations. Brazil was one of 29 countries to vote for a UN' Human Rights Council proposal for an investigation into allegations of Israeli human rights violations during the current conflict in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the vote "a travesty" and said it "should be rejected by decent people everywhere."

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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Adam Taylor · July 24