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Latin American diplomats: We can be doing more to pressure Israel

Speaking at a one-day conference in London, Latin American diplomats call for tougher policies, including sanctions and boycotts, against Israel for its ‘polices of apartheid.’

A year after Israel faced widespread censure from Latin America over its attack on the Gaza Strip, diplomats from the region have warned that a further deterioration in relations could be on the cards.

Speaking at a conference in London on Saturday, Ecuador’s Minister of Culture Guillaume Long warned that should there be a repeat of the 2014 war, which he described as a “genocide,” then Israel can expect similar, or even more serious, steps from other Latin American governments.

The remarks were made during a panel discussion at “Palestine & Latin America in the 21st Century: Building Solidarity for National Rights,” a one-day conference organized by U.K.-based media organization Middle East Monitor (MEMO) held at Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall. According to MEMO director Daud Abdullah, the conference was inspired by the diplomatic and popular support from Latin America for Palestinians during last summer’s “Operation Protective Edge.” Building on these developments, a key emphasis throughout the day, from politicians, academics, and activists alike, was the growing significance of relations and solidarity between countries in what is often referred to as the “Global South.

Minister Long appeared on a panel alongside Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom Roberto Sarmiento, Cuban embassy councillor Jorge Luis Garcia, and former Al Jazeera director general and now editorial director of newly-launched Huffington Post Arabi Wadah Khanfar.

Sarmiento, whose government cut diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009, told delegates that “the voice of the South” is growing stronger in its condemnation of an Israeli regime he described as a form of “apartheid.”

In his address, Long noted that while Latin American solidarity with Palestine has a long history on the political Left, what is new is that this Left is now in power in many countries across the region. The Left remembers, Long pointed out, the “historical role Israel has played in Latin America,” with its arms sales and support for dictatorships and right-wing paramilitary groups.

Echoing the words of the Bolivian ambassador, Ecuador’s Minister of Culture said Israel’s “policies of apartheid” were viewed by the region’s governments through the lens of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism — a “sensitive issue in Latin America.” Support for Palestine, meanwhile, is considered as part of a wider “struggle against the many injustices of the global system.”

During the session’s Q&A, Long revealed that his “trip here was really lobbied against,” but declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the pressure when I caught up with him during the break. “When we’re thinking about south-south relations,” he noted, “even in the simplest of contexts, there are always people who try [to prevent it].”

Conference delegates expressed some frustration that Latin American governments were not going further, especially in terms of economic sanctions. Responding, Minister Long said that speaking personally, he believes “more steps can be taken with respects to boycotting Israeli goods.” Emphasizing the positive steps taken already, Long noted that “this is the start, not the end point.”

The Bolivian ambassador, meanwhile, backed a “regime of sanctions” targeting Israel, as the panel expressed frustration at Israel’s actions both in Gaza as well as in the West Bank. For Minister Long, Israel’s “recent policies have amounted to geopolitical suicide,” as the two-state solution becomes increasingly difficult to achieve.

Other speakers during the day included Grenadian politician and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senator Peter David, who delivered the keynote speech, as well as academics including University of São Paulo historian Arlene Clemesha, U.K.-based Chilean professor Francisco Domingues, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, and Beirut-based academic Dr. Mohsen Saleh.

A third panel looking at questions of public opinion, social movements, and the media featured former Al Jazeera Latin America correspondent Dima Khatib, the President of the U.K.’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) Philippa Harvey, and Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns coordinator for Latin America Pedro Charbel.

Speaking to +972 during the break, the Ecuadorean minister emphasized how even less radical governments in the region are “fed up with this kind of unilateral action, ‘I’ll do what I want regardless of what the world says’ type of politics both on behalf of the U.S. and Israel.” Further mistakes, Long predicted, will mean Israel gets “wider and wider rejection, not just in Latin America but globally.”

This article was first published on +972mag.com, on 24 August 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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