Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stayed away from the Knesset during Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s address there on Monday, to protest Lula da Silva’s refusal to lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, sources close to Lieberman said on Monday evening.

Lieberman also boycotted a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his guest afterward to which he had been invited.

This policy, however, did not filter down to the Foreign Ministry staff, who throughout the day were downplaying the incident, saying the Brazilian president’s decision not to lay a wrath at Herzl’s tomb on Monday was due more to confusion over protocol than anything else.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Israel only informed Lula, as the Brazilian president is commonly referred, of the wreath laying ceremony last week, after the schedule had been meticulously planned weeks in advance.

Only last week, she explained, did Israel initiate a policy to honor Theodor Herzl’s 150th birthday by having all visiting heads of state lay a wreath at his grave.

The Brazilians, the spokeswoman said, did not understand why they were being asked to do something that other leaders had not been asked to do.

US Vice President Joe Biden did lay a wreath at Herzl’s grave, initiating the new policy that was in effect until 1994, but then lapsed when many visiting leaders preferred to pay their respects at the nearby grave of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin instead.

Nevertheless, World Zionist Organization treasurer Haggai Merom issued a statement saying Lula da Silva’s action was “an insult to Israel’s citizens and to Zionist communities around the world, including to the Jewish community in Brazil.”


Avoiding putting a wreath at Herzl’s grave during a state visit, Merom said, “is the same as refusing to visit the graves of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey or the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi in India.”

Lula da Silva is expect to visit the tomb of Yasser Arafat during a visit to Ramallah on Tuesday for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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