Colombia’s Gustavo Petro: Affront to Israel, embarrassment to the world

Gustavo Petro salutes the crowd in Bogotá's Plaza de Bolívar after sworn in as President of Colombia. EFE/ Carlos Ortega

“What you are saying is an insult to the six million victims of the Holocaust and to the Jewish People. Your comments here (on “X”), and others on your page completely ignore the hundreds of dead and kidnapped during Hamas’ murderous attack on Israeli civilians. This post is a shame to you and your country. A world leader should do better,” stated the World Jewish Congress, on Tuesday, to Colombian President Gustavo Petro.

In the realm of political irresponsibility and moral bankruptcy, Colombia’s Gustavo Petro’s recent comments stand out as a glaring example of a leader who has not only lost his way, but political accountability. His crude comparison of Gaza to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where millions of innocent people were systematically murdered, is nothing short of grotesque.

As most recently reported in The Times of Israel, and many other prestigious media outlets, Petro’s remarks have not only drawn condemnation from Jewish organizations but have exposed his woeful ignorance about history, diplomacy, and human suffering. The World Jewish Congress’s statement, directed at President Petro, is a stark reminder of the gravity of his statements.

Petro’s troubling statements began with a series of pro-Palestinian messages on “X” in which he prominently displayed at the top of his profile a collage of photos of Palestinian children, whom he claims were “murdered by the illegal occupation of their territory.” This collage posted on the same day Israelis were being murdered in the street, in their homes and at an outdoor music festival, shows a shocking lack of empathy for Israelis, or the citizens of any other nation that could be attacked on such a massive, inhumane, scale.

When Israel’s Ambassador to Colombia, Gali Dagan, cordially expected Petro to condemn Hamas up to 48 hours after Saturday’s horrific attacks, Petro’s response was nothing short of astonishing. His reply, “Terrorism is killing innocent children, whether in Colombia or Palestine,” is a disturbing failure to differentiate between the actions of a terrorist organization and a democratic state’s efforts to protect its citizens. Petro’s tweet was posted as an estimated 150 Israelis, Americans, Canadians, Italians, even a Colombian couple, ranging in age from toddlers to the elderly, were taken hostage by Hamas.

The Confederación de Comunidades Judías de Colombia, Colombia’s Jewish communal organization, issued a robust statement condemning Petro’s comments. The statement rightly pointed out that the vast majority of democracies around the world, including those led by progressive and democratic forces, had unequivocally condemned the aggression against Israel. Petro’s incoherent stance put him in stark contrast with his global counterparts. Petro’s incoherence also put him in stark contrast to other Latin American leaders, among them, Chile’s Boric and Brazil’s Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva, who categorically condemned the mass terrorist attack on Israel – one that has claimed more than 900 lives.

But Petro’s rhetoric didn’t stop with his verbose, self-aggrandizing remarks. He went on to claim that Gaza is being “converted into a concentration camp,” statement that reeks of historical ignorance and offensive hyperbole. His analogy between the situation in Gaza and Nazi concentration camps is not only historically inaccurate but deeply offensive to the memory of Holocaust victims and survivors.

The World Jewish Congress’s words highlight the extent of Petro’s biased historical rewrites. To invoke the Holocaust, an unparalleled symbol of human suffering and evil, in the context of a contemporary political dispute is not only insensitive but also reprehensible. It reflects a dangerous disregard for history and an alarming willingness to exploit the past for political protagonism.

In a challenging moment with the international community paying tribute to the victims of the indiscriminate slaughter of Israelis – and many foreign nationals – Gustavo Petro has embraced inflammatory rhetoric, rejected moral clarity, and tarnished the reputation of Colombia, at home and around the world. The country’s “progressive” leader appears also willing to weaken his country’s relationship with Israel, a long-standing friend and ally, to salvage misguided statements and his social media platform.

Among the most stinging rebukes of Petro’s social media postings came from the prominent Israeli politician Dani Dayan and chairman of Yad Vashem – the memorial and museum in Israel dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. “President Gustavo Petro, as President of Yad Vashem, I can affirm that you did not understand anything you saw in Auschwitz or denied seeing it. You have the ignominious distinction of being the only world leader, outside of Iran, to trivialize and deny the Holocaust in such a manner.”

On Tuesday, social media feeds in Colombia erupted with the hashtag #VergüenzaMundial (#WorldShame), reflection of the outrage Petro has ignited among his fellow citizens. His shameful statements are not just a stain on the country’s democratic integrity, but a perilous course that threatens to cast Colombia alongside pariah states such as Iran and Venezuela.

Adding to the gravity of the situation, on Saturday, vandals defaced the entrance to the Israeli Embassy in Bogotá with swastikas, a Jewish star and “terror” written in Hebrew. The words “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” “Arafat lives” and “Free Palestine” were also graffitied along the Embassy’s white columns. Ambassador Dagan, in a caustic statement on social media, referenced the vandalism, stating: “Look at ‘the solidarity’ we receive below at our [Embassy] installations.” Petro also failed to condemn this hateful act, further highlighting his indifference to antisemitism and intolerance.

Petro’s tweets are not a diplomatic blunder; they are a slap in the face to the people of Israel who have endured decades of conflict and terrorism. They are also a disservice to the countless innocent victims of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Should Israel determine that it will no longer maintain diplomatic relations with Colombia, it would be in its right to do so, especially after Petro likened the Israeli military to Nazis in a tweet directed at Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. “Concentration camps are prohibited by international law and those who develop them become criminals against humanity,” stated Petro as Gallant explained the extent of military’s operation against Hamas.

Petro’s repeated insults to the memory of the Holocaust is a betrayal of the universal values the international community must uphold. Failure to do so should generate strong condemnation from Colombia’s closest allies, among them the U.S, Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, but hopefully, remembering that the vast majority of Colombians do uphold the universal values of respect and human decency.