JERUSALEM — Israel and Brazil are locked in a rather undiplomatic standoff over the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador to the Latin American country.
Tensions began in September when Israel presented credentials for Dani Dayan, selected for the post by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Usually, it takes just weeks for a country to approve a new ambassador, but Israel is still waiting.
Dayan is the former head of the Yesha Council, a representative body of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Most countries, including Brazil, view the settlements as illegal and an impediment to the creation of a future Palestinian state. Israel disputes that. The United States calls the settlements “illegitimate.”
A few weeks after Netanyahu’s office announced Dayan’s appointment — in August via Twitter — some 30 left-wing groups in Brazil, including pro-Palestinian committees, socialist parties and trade unions, signed a manifesto in protest.
In Israel, former Israeli diplomats opposed to the appointment met with Brazil’s ambassador, Henrique Sardinha Pinto, expressing concern that Dayan’s commitment to the continued existence of settlements was at odds with Brazil’s stance regarding the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, battling a recession and impeachment proceedings, needs support from groups on the left.
While Brazil has made no official comment about Dayan, unofficially it is angry that Israel chose someone so provocative and that he was named publicly before Brazil had time to respond.
“There is an initial surprise with the proposal of this gentleman as ambassador, for what he represents. But this surprise gained another dimension when it was done the way it was done,” said a Brazilian government official with 20 years of diplomatic experience, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly.
From Israel’s — and Dayan’s — perspective, Brazil’s reluctance to accept him sets a dangerous precedent. In a recent TV interview, Dayan likened Brazil’s rejection of an Israeli living in the West Bank to a European Union decision in November to label goods from Jewish settlements there.
“This is taking things to a new level. This is the first time a country is labeling people,” said Dayan, who declined to be interviewed for this story. “The E.U. ambassador in Israel told me that while they are against the settlements as a government policy, they are not against the people who live there.”
Dayan said he does not take Brazil’s stance personally but worries that it could keep Israelis living in the West Bank from joining the foreign service. More than 350,000 people live in about 200 Jewish settlements in the West Bank. An additional 300,000 Jewish Israelis live in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and annexed to the city, a move most countries view as illegal.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, said that unrelated political issues should not influence Dayan’s position as an ambassador and that “Israel still expects Brazil to approve the appointment.”
“Brazil has refrained from giving a negative answer, and this is a nice diplomatic way of hinting the person is not wanted,” said Robbie Sabel, a former senior Israeli diplomat.
“But Israel is in a difficult position, because if it refuses to withdraw the man, this could lead to diplomatic impasse with Brazil. Israel is not interested in that. It sees Brazil as a Latin American superpower,” Sabel said. “My guess is that the man himself will decide to withdraw.”
This is not the first time Brazil and Israel have been at odds. Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, alienated Israel as he worked to build relations with Iran. He also formally recognized the Palestinian state in 2010. In 2014, during Israel’s 50-day war with Hamas in the Gaza strip, Brazil recalled its ambassador to protest Israel’s actions.
Regarding Dayan’s appointment, Marcos de Azambuja, a former Brazilian ambassador to France and Argentina, said: “Brazilians immediately recognized he was not the right man. He has a close connection with the settlements in the West Bank, and we find that these settlements are contrary to international law.”
But de Azambuja, who is also a board member at the Brazilian Center for International Relations, a Rio de Janeiro think tank, said the long-term relationship between the two countries is not at stake .
“It generates some noise, some problems and a sense of frustration and irritation,” he said. “Brazil wants to strengthen relations with Israel and make things work, because we have enough difficulties at home.”
Phillips reported from Rio de Janeiro.