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Colombian president says country cutting diplomatic ties with Israel

Addressing a public gathering on Labor Day, Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a harsh critic of the Netanyahu government, announced his intention to sever diplomatic relations with Israel.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro delivers a speech during a May Day rally in Bogota on May 1, 2024.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro said Wednesday his country will severe diplomatic ties with Israel over its actions in the Gaza Strip.

Addressing a crowd gathered for an International Workers’ Day march in the capital, Bogota, Petro said, "Tomorrow we will break diplomatic relations with the state of Israel … for having a government, for having a president who is genocidal." 

Petro, the country’s first left-wing president, has been an outspoken critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government over the past six months.

On Oct. 9, only two days after the deadly attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, Petro reacted to a statement by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in which he announced a complete siege of Gaza and said the country was "fighting human animals." Petro posted on X, "This is what the Nazis said of the Jews," adding that "democratic peoples cannot allow Nazism to reestablish itself in international politics." The Colombian president argued that Gallant's wording amounted to "hate speech," which — if allowed to continue — "will only bring a holocaust."

Reacting to Wednesday's announcement, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz posted on X, "Colombia's president promised to reward Hamas murderers and rapists — and today he kept his promise." Katz added, "History will remember that Gustavo Petro decided to side with the most despicable monsters known to mankind who burned babies, murdered children, raped women and kidnapped innocent civilians." He further added that "relations between Israel and Colombia have always been warm — and no hate-filled, anti-Semitic president will be able to change that."

US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt slammed Petro’s statement, saying, "We strongly condemn President Petro's statements and call on him to condemn Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, for its barbaric murder of Israeli men, women and children."

Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned Colombia’s ambassador, Margarita Manjarrez, for a reprimand over the remarks. Israel also announced it was suspending its security exports to the country. The Colombian army has been using over the years different Israeli weapons, including the Rafael Spike ER anti-tank missile system, Israeli-manufactured Galil rifles and equipment for fighter jets. 

On April 5, Colombia asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to allow the country to join South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip. In its application, Colombia called on the court to ensure "the safety and, indeed, the very existence of the Palestinian people." Colombia's effort to join South Africa in the complaint has no impact on the legal case, rather it's a diplomatic message against Israel.

Israel and Colombia established diplomatic relations in the 1950s. Netanyahu visited Bogota in 2017, and Colombian President Ivan Duque traveled to Israel on a state visit in 2021, inaugurating the Colombian innovation office in Jerusalem. Israeli exports to Colombia in 2022 amounted to $138.8 million, according to the UN Comtrade Database on international trade. Still, bilateral relations deteriorated considerably under left-wing Petro. It is unclear for the moment how the announcement by Petro will affect bilateral trade. 

Colombia’s neighbor Bolivia announced on Oct. 31 it was severing its diplomatic ties with Israel over the Gaza war. Chile, Colombia and Jordan announced Nov. 1 that they are recalling their respective ambassadors to Israel for consultations over Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Petro posted at the time on X: "I have decided to recall our ambassador to Israel for consultations. If Israel does not stop the massacre of the Palestinian people, we cannot be there."