Colombian President Gustavo Petro gestures

Colombian President Gustavo Petro gestures during an International Workers' Day speech on May 1, 2024 in Bogotá.

(Photo: Diego Cuevas/Getty Images)

Cutting Ties With Israel, 'One Colombia Shows Far More Courage Than the Other Columbia'

"The times of genocide and extermination of an entire people cannot return," said leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro. "If Palestine dies, humanity dies."

In sharp contrast with Columbia University in New York City, Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Wednesday announced the imminent suspension of diplomatic relations with Israel over that country's assault on Gaza.

"The government of change informs that as of tomorrow diplomatic relations with Israel will be broken... for having a government, for having a president who is genocidal," Petro told a crowd in the capital Bogotá during an International Workers' Day event, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The world could be summed up in a single word that vindicates the necessity of life, rebellion, the raised flag, and resistance," the leftist leader added. "That word is called Gaza. It is called Palestine. It is called the children and babies who have died dismembered by the bombs."

"The times of genocide and extermination of an entire people cannot return. If Palestine dies, humanity dies," he added as the crowd started chanting, "Petro! Petro! Petro!"

Colombia joins at least nine other nations—including Bahrain, Belize, Bolivia, Chad, Chile, Honduras, Jordan, South Africa, and Turkey—that have either recalled their ambassadors from Israel or broken off relations in response to Israel's assault on Gaza, which has killed, maimed, or left missing more than 123,000 Palestinians and forcibly displaced around 90% of the besieged strip's 2.3 million people.

In late October, Colombia became one of the first countries to recall its ambassador from Israel, a move that came amid a diplomatic fracas between Bogotá and Tel Aviv sparked by Petro's comparison of Israeli leaders' dehumanizing and genocidal statements about Palestinians with "what the Nazis said about the Jews."

Petro also called Gaza—often described as the "world's largest open-air prison"—a "concentration camp."

After Israel accused Petro of "hostile and antisemitic statements" and "support for the horrific acts of Hamas terrorists," the Colombian president hit back, saying Israel's war on Gaza is "genocide."

Last month, Colombia asked the International Court of Justice to join the South African-led genocide case against Israel, which is supported by over 30 nations. In January, the ICJ issued a preliminary ruling that found Israel is "plausibly" committing genocide in Gaza and ordered its government to prevent genocidal acts.

Critics accuse Israel of ignoring the ICJ order. Last month the court cited "the worsening conditions of life faced by Palestinians in Gaza, in particular the spread of famine and starvation" as it issued another provisional order directing Israel to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid into the strip.

In a homophonic reference to protests on U.S. campuses including Columbia University—which has refused to divest from Israel and has twice sicced police on peaceful protesters—attorney Steven Donziger quipped, "One Colombia shows far more courage than the other Columbia."

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