President-Elect Lula Da Silva Meets President of Superior Electoral Tribunal in Brasilia
Brazilian President Lula da Silva Andressa Anholete/Getty Images.

Israel declared Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva persona non grata on Monday, following statements in which he compared Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.

The government called the Brazilian ambassador in the country, Federico Mayer, to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. There, Foreign Minister Israel Katz told him that Lula is "persona non grata in Israel until he retracts his statements."

"I brought you to a place that testifies more than anything else to what the Nazis and Hitler did to the Jews, including members of my family. "The comparison between Israel's just war against Hamas and the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazis is a disgrace and a severe antisemitic attack," added Katz. Both of them later toured Yad Vashem together and the Israeli official showed Meyer the names of his grandparents who were killed.

The diplomatic clash began on Sunday with Lula's statements in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where he was attending an African Union summit. "What's happening in the Gaza Strip is not a war, it's a genocide," he said, adding that a "war between a highly-prepared army and women and children" didn't have precedent in history except for when "Hitler decided to kill the Jews."

Several other Israeli officials came out to condemn the statements, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying his counterpart had "crossed a red line." "This is a trivialization of the Holocaust and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and Israel's right to defend itself." Jewish organizations in Brazil echoed the criticism as well.

Lula is not the only South American leader to hold these views. Colombian President Gustavo Petro has repeatedly called Israel's actions a genocide as well, while Chile's Gabriel Boric has also been highly critical (although refraining from using the term genocide) and recalled the country's ambassador to Israel in November, shortly after the offensive in Gaza began.

With no ceasefire agreement in sight, Israel has vowed to continue is offensive until rescuing the more than 100 hostages that are believed to still be held captive in Gaza and completing other military goals.

The army has threatened to invade Gaza's Rafah by the start of Ramadan if Hamas does not return the remaining hostages by then, despite international pressure to protect Palestinian civilians sheltering in the southern city.

The Israeli government says the city on the Egypt border is the last remaining stronghold in Gaza of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

But it is also where three-quarters of the displaced Palestinian population has fled, taking shelter in sprawling tent encampments without access to adequate food, water or medicine.

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, is expected to begin around March 10. Benny Gantz, a retired military chief of staff and member of the War Cabinet, said said the offensive will be carried out in coordination with American and Egyptian partners to "minimize the civilian casualties as much as possible".

With international pressure piling on Israel, the UN's top court opened a week of hearings from Monday examining the legal consequences of the country's 57-year occupation of Palestinian territories.

The hearings, requested by the UN General Assembly, are separate from South Africa's high-profile case alleging Israel is committing genocide in its current Gaza offensive.

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