Lula visits Arafat tomb, officials fume

Brazil’s president ignores new Israeli protocol marking Herzl’s 150th birthday.

Da Silva visits Arafat's grave 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Da Silva visits Arafat's grave 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Foreign Ministry officials were fuming on Wednesday that Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who refused to lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl in Jerusalem, contrary to new Israeli protocol measures recently instituted, donned a keffiyeh around his shoulders and laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
“This is an insult,” one senior Foreign Ministry official said. “It is offensive that he laid a wreath at the grave of a terrorist, but not at the tomb of Zionism’s visionary.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman snubbed Lula da Silva during his visit in Jerusalem on Monday because of his refusal to go to Mount Herzl.
Lula da Silva laid a yellow and green wreath on Arafat’s mausoleum on Wednesday, following Palestinian protocol for visiting leaders. Ramallah Mayor Janet Mikhail draped a black-and-white keffiyeh on the shoulders of the Brazilian president, who told a crowd of Palestinian officials and several dozen people waving Brazil’s flag that he had participated in pro-Palestinian protests in the past.
Speaking at a press conference, Lula da Silva criticized the West Bank security barrier, called on Israel to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip and described Jewish settlements in the West Bank as extinguishing “the candle of hope.”
One of the things that irked the Foreign Ministry was that while he was willing to follow Palestinian protocol and go to Arafat’s tomb, he did not treat Israeli protocol with the same respect.
Brazilian officials countered that visiting Herzl’s grave was not accepted protocol for a foreign leader’s trip.
“It was never even considered as part of the president’s agenda,” one Brazilian official said, pointing out that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi did not visit Herzl’s grave on their latest trips to Israel.
Foreign Ministry officials admit that this is new protocol, initiated a few weeks ago to honor Herzl’s 150th birthday. But, they say, it was on the agenda given to the Brazilian authorities before Lula da Silva’s arrival.
US Vice President Joe Biden last week was the first world leader to lay a wreath at Herzl’s grave as part of this new policy.
One of the driving forces behind the policy was Yitzhak Eldan, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol. Eldan said that Israel was playing into the hands of the Arab narrative by only taking visiting statesmen to Yad Vashem, and that this reinforced the idea that Israel exists only because of the Holocaust. It was important first, Eldan said, to take them to Herzl’s grave, symbolizing the Jewish national renaissance that predated the Holocaust, and then to Yad Vashem.
Prior to 1995, Eldan said, world leaders did visit Herzl’s tomb onstate visits, but that the practice was discontinued after YitzhakRabin’s assassination, when many preferred instead to go to his grave,also on Mount Herzl.

AP contributed to this report.