Israel-Brazil crisis over Lula holocaust mention blowing over, says Israeli ambassador

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reacts during a meeting with members of the automotive sector in Brasilia

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The diplomatic crisis that erupted one month ago when Brazil's president likened the Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two has begun to calm down, Israel's envoy in Brasilia said on Monday.

"We are trying to lower the flames, and we are hopeful," Ambassador Daniel Zonshine said in an interview with Reuters. "It will take time to get back to full relations," he added.

Relations between the two countries were shaken when President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, visiting Addis Ababa for an African Union summit, incensed Israel saying the only historical precedent for the deaths in Gaza was the Nazi genocide of Jews.

The comparison was totally unacceptable, Zonshine said.

Brazil's ambassador to Israel, Fred Meyer, was summoned to a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz the next day for a reprimand in the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Katz declared that Lula was not welcome in Israel until he apologized, which he has not done.

Meyer was recalled to Brasilia and there is no date for the ambassador's return to Israel.

At least, there have been no new harsh statements by either side, Zonshine said, opening the way to improved relations and the continuation of Israeli cooperation with Brazil in many areas, from agriculture and irrigation to aviation and security technology.

The Brazilian government has not said whether it went ahead with a contribution Lula announced in February to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that provides healthcare, food and education to Palestinian refugees.

Israel accuses UNRWA employees of being members of Hamas, including its military wing. A U.N. investigation is currently studying that evidence and has yet to report on its findings.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler)