Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman boycotted Monday’s speech to the Knesset by visiting Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in retaliation for the visitor’s refusal to attend a customary wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Zionist founder Theodore Herzl.
However Lula, whose country is being embraced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, plans to pay his respects at the grave of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
In another display of a new kind of diplomacy that foregoes niceties in the face of foreign countries’ snubs of Israel, Lieberman’s office said that Lula's departure from the accepted practice of visiting Herzl’s grave is a serious matter.
Last July, the Israeli Foreign Minister visited Lula as part of a 10-day trip to try to improve economic cooperation with South America while deflecting Iranian overtures in the region. On the eve of his visit, a leading member of Lula’s party called Lieberman “a racist and a fascist.”
Both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Lula of the dangers of the Iranian regime, but Lula was one of the first international leaders to recognize the re-election of Ahmadinejad last June, despite widespread charges that the vote was rigged.
Brazil has shown signs of drifting towards the Iranian-Hizbullah-Venezuela axis while improving trade relations with Israel. Lula announced on Monday its final approval for a free grade agreement between Israel and the Mercosur bloc, a regional traded agreement that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.