Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica
Uruguayan President Jose 'Pepe' Mujica Photo by Reuters
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A diplomatic incident has recently clouded Israel’s relations with Uruguay, leaving its government is angry at Israeli Ambassador Dori Goren's public criticism of a string of Uruguayan politicians and parties. In recent days, Uruguay has even begun sending hints to Israel that it would like to have the ambassador replaced.

The signals from Montevideo were sent to Jerusalem via the media in Uruguay. “The government would consider replacing the ambassador a gesture of goodwill on Israel’s part,” a senior official was quoted as saying in a report published last week in the weekly newspaper Busqueda, which is identified with the left. “This stems from diplomatic disputes between the ambassador and members of the government and the political system.”

The origins of the dispute can be found in the declarations made by senior Movement of Popular Participation party officials condemning Israel during last month’s fighting between Israel and Gaza. Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica formerly headed the MPP, a left-wing party that formed the slate that won the election in Uruguay.

Several senior MPP members said during the course of Operation Pillar of Defense that Israel is committing “genocide” and conducting a “policy of extermination” in Gaza. The Israeli ambassador hastened to react to the statements, calling them “repugnant and shocking.” Goren said the words are particularly grave coming from the party of Foreign Minister Luis Almagro.

The Uruguayan government rejected the MPP statements but at the same time called the Israeli ambassador to order. Goren was summoned for a clarification at the Foreign Ministry in Montevideo, during which he was asked “not to intervene in the activity of the country’s elected democratic institutions.”

The anger at the Israeli ambassador was further intensified after he cancelled a meeting with senior MPP members to which he had been invited. The meeting was supposed to deal with Operation Pillar of Defense, but the day before the event, the ambassador informed them that he would be unable to attend for “security reasons.”

A source in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem noted that there has been no official request thus far from the Uruguayan government relating to the replacement of the Israeli ambassador. Foreign Ministry director-general Rafael Barak, whose family was part of the Jewish community in Uruguay, is presently clarifying the issue with Ambassador Goren.

The Jewish community in Uruguay, which numbers about 20,000 people, supports Goren and believes his statements were neither exaggerated nor exceptional. The Jewish community also thinks Goren is promoting ties between Israel and Uruguay in a manner unprecedented in recent years. Several opposition parties in Uruguay also backed the Israeli ambassador and attacked the MPP for its anti-Israel statements.