'Persona non grata': understand the meaning of the term used by Israel to refer to Lula after his statements about the massacre in Gaza

Term may prevent Lula from traveling to the country, but probably won’t cause any other consequences for Brazil

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (Federal District) |
President Lula attended the 37th African Union Summit - Ricardo Stuckert/Presidência da República

A day after President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party) compared Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip to Adolf Hitler's persecution of Jews, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared on Monday (19) that Lula is a persona non grata in the country.

“The comparison made by Brazil’s President, @LulaOficial, between Israel’s just war against Hamas and the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazis, which exterminated 6 million Jews, is a disgrace and a severe antisemitic attack that desecrates the memory of those killed in the Holocaust. We will not forget nor forgive. In my name and the name of the citizens of Israel, I declare President Lula persona non grata in Israel until he reconsiders his words", wrote the minister in his official account on X/Twitter.

The Brazilian ambassador to Israel was called to a meeting with the Israeli minister today (19) to talk about Lula’s statement. 

The term ‘persona non grata’ ("a person who is no longer welcome”, in a rough translation from Latin) is a legal instrument used in foreign affairs to indicate that a foreign official representative is no longer welcome in a country. It was first described in Article 9 of the Vienna Convention, a treaty signed in 1961 that lists the rules of diplomatic relations to be followed by countries and to which Brazil adheres.

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In theory, this definition would only apply to the diplomatic corps of a foreign country and not to a head of state. In practice, however, this could prevent President Lula from traveling to Israel, but it probably won’t have any other serious consequences for Brazil than damaging Lula's image in the eyes of the Israeli government.


 In his statement to journalists on Sunday morning (18) before leaving Ethiopia back to Brazil, Lula compared the massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the persecution carried out by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

“What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people does not exist at any other historic moment. Actually, it did exist: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews,” said the Brazilian president. In the same day, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, criticized Lula’s statement and said he had crossed the “redline”.

"The words of the Brazilian president are shameful and egregious. This is a trivialization of the Holocaust and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and Israel's right to defend itself," Netanyahu said. Comparing Israel to the Nazi Holocaust and Hitler is crossing a redline. Israel is fighting for its defense and securing its future until complete victory and it does so while upholding international law,” Netanyahu posted on his official X/Twitter account on Sunday (18).

:: Lula comes back to Africa to visit new BRICS members ::

Lula's statement was made amid a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on suspicion of promoting genocide in Gaza. The case was filed by South Africa and is supported by Brazil. At the end of January, the Court ordered Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and to ensure that its forces do not promote genocide in the region. The decision is not yet a judgment on the merits of the accusations, which is likely to take years, but it represents a symbolic defeat for Israel.

Another Gazan hospital attacked 

Besides, last week, Israeli militaries carried out new attacks against the precarious hospital structure in the Gaza Strip. In an offensive to supposedly capture terrorists, Israeli forces stormed the Al Nasser hospital on Thursday (15), the second largest in the southern region of Gaza. 

With the invasion, the hospital’s supply of oxygen was cut, causing the death of, at least, five patients. In his account on X/Twitter on Sunday, the WHO director, Tedros Adhanom, said the hospital wasn't working anymore.

"Nasser Hospital in Gaza is not functional anymore after a weeklong siege followed by the ongoing raid. Both yesterday and the day before, the WHO team was not permitted to enter the hospital to assess the conditions of the patients and critical medical needs, despite reaching the hospital compound to deliver fuel alongside partners," said the WHO director.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the operation at Al Nasser Hospital seems to be "part of a pattern of attacks by Israeli forces against civilian infrastructure crucial to saving lives in Gaza, particularly hospitals."

Edited by: Nicolau Soares