(photo credit: AP)
Israel is considering whether to send a charge d'affaires back to Venezuela, after Hugo Chavez's government made clear that although it wanted to expel Israel's ambassador, it did not want to close the embassy or cut off diplomatic ties.
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry announced last week it was expelling Israel's ambassador and other Israeli diplomats. Ambassador Shlomo Cohen has since returned to Israel.
Since then, however, Venezuela has indicated to the Foreign Ministry that it did not intend to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and would accept another official who would serve as a charge d'affaires.
Israel, according to Foreign Ministry officials, has not decided yet whether to send anyone back to Caracas. Likewise, it still has not decided how to respond to the expulsion of the ambassador, and whether it would - in kind - expel Venezuela's representative from Israel.
While the Israeli embassy in Caracas has had little contact over the last few years with Chavez's radical government, it has maintained close ties with the 15,000-strong Jewish community there - a consideration in deciding whether or not to dispatch another representative to the country.
In the world of diplomacy, there are three ways - beyond regular diplomatic messages and protests - for one country to express its deep anger at the policies of another. The first is to recall one's ambassador from another country for "consultations," the second is to expel the ambassador of that country; and the third is to sever diplomatic ties.
Venezuela, during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, recalled its ambassador.
This time, after Chavez called the IDF operation a "Palestinian holocaust," his government ratcheted up the protest by expelling Israel's envoy, but is apparently not interested in moving up the ladder to the next step - severing ties.
A group of 75 Holocaust scholars from around the world, meanwhile, signed a petition criticizing Chavez for accusing Israel of carrying out "a Holocaust" in Gaza.
"Israel is acting in legitimate self-defense against Hamas terrorism [and] has done its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, whereas Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians," the protest letter reads.
"Any comparison between Israel and the Nazis outrageously distorts Israel's actions and trivializes the enormity and nature of the Holocaust."
The letter, organized by the Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, was sent Monday to the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington.
In the letter, the Holocaust scholars also noted that the US State Department, in its report on global anti-Semitism last year, cited the drawing of comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis as an example of anti-Semitism.
In a related development, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim - who held talks in Jerusalem on Sunday with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - went to Ramallah Monday for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Amorim's visit was part of a regional tour announced soon after the operation in Gaza began. He went to Syria prior to his arrival in Jerusalem and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
According to Israeli sources, Amorim came here without any proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza and without any message from Assad.
Rather, according to assessments in Jerusalem, Brazil's attempts to get involved in the Middle East are part of its efforts to play a larger role on the world stage, and any country looking for international stature has to show involvement in this region.
Brazil, like the EU, UN, Quartet, Russia, China and India, has a special Middle East envoy.
Brazil's position on the Gaza conflict has not been dissimilar to many countries in Europe: deploring the "disproportionate Israeli reaction," expressing grave concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza and calling for an end to the firing of rockets into Israel.
Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report.