Brazilian President in Israel, Stirs Controversy

Brazil's President Lula makes a historic trip to Israel. Controversy ensues as Lula opposes Iran sanctions, refuses to honor Herzl.

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Maayana Miskin, | updated: 10:44

Lula (left) with Peres
Lula (left) with Peres
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” Da Silvia landed in Israel on Sunday for a historic visit. Lula's visit is the first by a currently serving Brazilian president in Israel's history.

Lula's visit to Israel comes on the backdrop of his recent invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit his country. Lula has expressed opposition to sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Israel sees Iran's nuclear program as a serious threat, and is promoting harsh sanctions.

Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin plans to tackle the issue during Lula's visit to the Knesset on Monday. The Knesset speaker has prepared a speech warning the visitor of the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism, and the danger that Iranian nuclear weapons would pose to the entire free world.

Refuses to Lay Wreath at Herzl's Grave
Lula also stirred controversy by refusing to visit the tomb of Zionist philosopher Theodor Herzl, who is credited with the founding of the modern state of Israel. A ministerial committee recently decided, in honor of the 150th year since Herzl's birth, that visiting heads of state would be taken to see Herzl's tomb and to place flowers at the site prior to visiting Yad Vashem.

World Zionist Organization head Hagai Marom, who escorts visiting heads of state at Herzl's tomb, said Lula's decision not to visit Herzl's grave was offensive. “The decision is insulting to citizens of Israel and to Zionist communities worldwide, including the Jewish community of Brazil,” he said.

Israel and Brazil have grown closer in recent years despite Brazil's generally pro-Arab political stance. Trade between the two countries has increased in recent years, particularly in the field of science and technology.

During his visit, Lula will join Peres in addressing Israeli and Brazilian businessmen, will address a special Knesset session, and will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial project. He will also meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Speaker Rivlin, and Opposition Head Tzipi Livni.

Lula agreed to come to Israel after President Shimon Peres extended an invitation during his own trip to Brazil in November. At the time, Lula told Peres that the Middle East needs new players, and stated his willingness to work to advance peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.