Latin America and the Middle East may be separated by thousands of miles, but that distance has been substantially narrowed in recent weeks. Several Latin American countries have reacted strongly to the most recent fighting between Hamas and Israel. Regrettably, most of their activity has been directed against Israel, the only democratic nation in the region.
Five countries — Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru — have recalled their ambassadors from Israel, a harsh step rarely taken in the diplomatic world. When was the last time they pulled their envoys from any other nation, including serial abusers of human rights such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria?
Moreover, all but one of the Mercosur member states — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela — issued a stinging statement condemning Israel’s conduct in Gaza. To its credit, Paraguay did not join them.
The irony of such a statement is striking. Venezuela has championed Syrian President Bashar Assad — “Venezuela is with Syria,” President Nicolás Maduro declared one week after Damascus used chemical weapons on its own people — in a war that has resulted in nearly 200,000 victims and millions of refugees. Surely, Caracas has no claim to pass itself off as a defender of anyone’s human rights. The fact that the other four nations allowed themselves to be associated with the thuggish Maduro regime speaks for itself.
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Venezuela has also consistently defended Iran, another country that tramples on human rights, inflicts capital punishment on minors, and was responsible for the two worst terrorist attacks in modern Latin American history, in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994. Tellingly, Tehran is also the principal supplier of weapons, funding and training for Hamas.
Further, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico recently supported an Arab-sponsored resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council castigating Israel for the fighting in Gaza, absolving Hamas of any responsibility, and demanding a new, one-sided U.N. investigation.
Why would these Latin American countries ignore Hamas’ wrongdoing? Why would they not stand by the side of a fellow democracy, Israel, rather than a despotic regime?
Isn’t it abundantly clear that Hamas is a terrorist organization, recognized as such by the U.S., EU and many others? Isn’t it known that the Hamas Charter calls for the annihilation of Israel? Doesn’t Israel, like any other nation, have an obligation to protect its citizens against missiles, terror tunnels and kidnapping attempts? And isn’t Israel confronting a foe that exploits civilians as human shields, uses mosques, schools and hospitals as arms depots, and chooses to build a terrorist infrastructure rather than a national infrastructure for growth and development?
Not to be outdone, Bolivia, which is closely tied to Iran — the preeminent state sponsor of terrorism, according to the State Department — dubbed Israel a “terrorist state,” and has added a new visa regime for Israeli travelers.
Israel a “terrorist state”? Absurd.
Israel had only one goal when it left Gaza in 2005: giving local residents their first chance in history to govern themselves, something not accorded them by the Ottomans, the British or the Egyptians, to govern themselves. All Israel wanted in return was quiet on its border. But that was not to be. Hamas was the reason why.
What exactly would Bolivian President Evo Morales have Israel do in the face of almost 3,000 rockets fired from Hamas-ruled Gaza? Negotiate? Negotiate about what — the terms of Israel’s disappearance? And what would Morales do if a neighboring country began terrorizing the citizens of Bolivia by lobbing missiles and building cross-border tunnels for purposes of infiltration and mass murder?
What makes all this behavior so shocking is that with the exception of Venezuela (since the Chávez era) and Bolivia (since the Morales era), these nations have traditionally enjoyed strong ties with Israel. Indeed, Israel was among the very first countries invited to negotiate an association agreement with Mercosur, as well as with the Alliance of the Pacific.
As Latin American countries have made impressive strides in avoiding war and achieving peaceful relations on the continent, it would be gratifying to think the same model could be imported to the Middle East. Indeed, a senior Brazilian official proudly told a visiting AJC delegation in Brasilia that his country has no conflicts on any of its borders and enjoys diplomatic links with every country in the world. The implication was that there can be a new model of conducting foreign policy, and Brasilia has discovered it.
If only this were possible in the Middle East! Regrettably, however, it is not, at least not now. It is important, therefore, for Latin American nations to see the turbulent region as it currently is, and not seek to superimpose their own experience, as if it conveniently fit. I hope one day it will, but, alas, that day is not yet here. Meanwhile, Israel has no choice but to defend itself against terrorist groups like Hamas that openly call for its destruction.
David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.