(JTA) – Israel’s new ambassador to Brazil, whose nomination replaced that of a former settler leader rejected by Latin America’s largest country, declared that the Jewish state does not have settlements in the West Bank.
Yossi Shelley, a Likud party activist and former businessman, assumed the ambassador position in January, putting an end to a yearlong diplomatic standoff.
“Israel has no settlements, but areas under war,” Shelley said Tuesday during an interview with O Globo newspaper, the first of his term. “We do not recognize the occupation, as journalists and politicians say, but rather the international law. Of course we want to solve the problem.”
Brasilia took several months to rebuff ex-settler leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s choice to succeed Reda Mansour, a much criticized strategy of former president Dilma Rousseff, whose Worker’s Party had an openly anti-Israel platform. Rousseff was impeached and removed from office in August.
Shelley said he wishes to focus on economic ties with Latin America’s largest nation and expects a more amicable relationship with President Michel Temer in order to boost bilateral trade.
“It was sad that politics influenced the relationship between two democratic nations,” he said.
“Israel did not send a criminal or someone illegitimate. Sometimes one may not to judge whether he lives in the settlements, as they call them, because international law stipulates that these are not occupied territories but rather in dispute. There can be no discrimination.
“I am here to protect Israeli interests: against the Arab countries that, instead of building themselves as we are, have been going to the U.N. all the time to say that the Israelis attack, they are bad people and do not know how to deal with human rights.”
On Sunday, Shelley joined some 2,000 people during a celebration of Israel’s Independence Day in Rio, including the city’s pro-Israel mayor, who spoke up for the Jewish state.
Brazil is home to some 120,000 Jews, Latin America’s second-largest Jewish community after Argentina.