By raising his voice against Israel, Lula places Brazil at the forefront of movement that opposes massacres in Gaza

Experts herad by Brasil de Fato say Lula's statement resonates in countries of the Global South

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Brazil’s Lula during a meeting with African presidents on the African Union Summit, on Saturday (17) - Ricardo Stuckert

By raising his tone, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva puts Brazil in the leading role of the movement that opposes Israel’s actions against Palestinians. That’s the opinion of experts heard by Brasil de Fato about the political scenario and diplomatic clash between Brazil and Israel. They say Brazil’s stance may resonate among global South nations and encourage other countries to take a stance on the current war in the Middle East.

“At this moment, it's possible that Lula will lead the movement with South Africa and other countries that have suspended diplomatic relations with Israel. This could be seen as a sign that Israel is losing support for its crime against humanity," says historian Arlene Clemesha, director of the Center for Arab Studies at the University of São Paulo (USP, in Portuguese).

“Lula took a political position when he called the events in Gaza a genocide. For a long time now, accusations against Israel have been accumulating, and this is becoming normal. Lula raised his tone to call people’s attention, and [he] is in a very favorable context,” says Reginaldo Nasser, a professor of Foreign Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP, in Portuguese). The Brazilian president made the statement during the 37th African Union Summit.

On Monday (19), Netanyahu summoned Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for a “stern reprimand” after saying, on Sunday, that Lula had crossed the “redline”. The Brazilian government responded by ordering its ambassador to Israel back to Brazil. The diplomatic crisis started after Lula’s statement on Sunday, comparing the massacre headed by Israeli military forces against the population of the Gaza Strip to Hitler’s genocide targeting Jews.

Reginaldo Nasser highlights that Colombia, Chile and Bolivia took a harsh stance on Israel at the end of 2023, the moment he considers Lula’s opinion fell short of the regional context. “Lula’s statement will be important in Latin America. It’s still at the beginning, but there is this leadership [Brazil] regarding Gaza.”

:: 'There’s no explanation for Israel to be killing women and children', says Lula in Egypt ::

Mohammed Nadir also believes that the Lula government's stance could put Brazil in a leading position in face of the disorganization of the international criminal justice system caused by Israel's disregard for international law.

“We cannot forget that Brazil is an important country aspiring to become a global power and has all the conditions to play this role. It is a country that advocates for multilateralism, proposing a project to change this post-World War II international system dominated by the United States and its European followers. So, there is a larger context of regional powers contesting this situation of disorganization of the international system," he said.

The context of Lula’s statement

Nasser believes Lula’s statement was strategic in calling attention to the massacre in Gaza, already foreseeing the Israeli harsh reaction when someone refers to the Holocaust.

To Arlene Clemesha, this reaction is a defence tactic used by Israel to protect itself from attacks. “Netanyahu’s reaction was expected. Israel’s approach regarding foreign affairs has been to accuse any criticism of being antisemitic. These comparisons with the Holocaust are one of the points most often used to attack opponents. What the State of Israel is doing with the memory of the Holocaust is using it to benefit its current policies," she said. 

Bruno Huberman, a professor of Foreign Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, says Lula was spontaneous and improvised, and adds that it was not a decision made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Presidency of the Republic.

"Although the president is in charge of the state bureaucracy, there is a relationship in which, sometimes, one constrains the other. And what we've seen since October 7 is President Lula somehow pulling the state bureaucracy to the left, so to speak, towards international solidarity with the Palestinians. Because we've seen Lula's moves since the first few weeks, when he said, for instance, that this was genocide,” Clemesha concluded. 

:: In the city of Belo Horizonte, over 30 Carnival blocks unite in defense of Palestine ::

Hamas and Israel

When asked for a position on the Hamas attacks against Israel on October 7, which resulted in about 1,400 people dead, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on October 12 explaining the Lula government's motivation for not using the classification of "terrorist group” when referring to Hamas.

“Regarding the classification of terrorist entities, Brazil applies the UN Security Council determinations, since it is responsible for guaranteeing peace and international security in the terms of Article 24 of the UN Charter," said the official statement. 

Before the statement, a requirement signed by 61 Bolsonarist federal deputies, including names from the Liberal Party (Bolsonaro’s party), Podemos, MDB Party, PSD and Republicanos Party, demanded the Lula government, via Itamaraty, to recognize Hamas as a “terrorist organization”.

In the week following the ministry’s statement, on October 20, the Brazilian president called Hamas's actions “terrorist” for the first time and said Israel’s reaction is “insane”.

In a speech during the ceremony to celebrate Bolsa Família’s 20 years, Lula called people’s attention to the number of children killed in the conflict by Israeli attacks. “Today, when [Family Grant] the program celebrates 20 years of existence, I cannot but remember 1,500 children that have already died in the Gaza Strip. They didn’t ask Hamas to act madly as they did attacking Israel, but also didn’t ask Israel to react insanely and kill them. Exactly those who have nothing to do with the war, who just want to live and play, who haven't had the right to be children," he said.

:: The US must stop supporting Israel’s genocidal campaign, says a lawyer in a lawsuit against Biden ::

Netanyahu wants to “end with the Gaza Strip”

On October 25, Lula used the word “genocide” for the first time to refer to Israeli attacks against Gaza, toughening the discourse against Israel's disproportionate reaction to Hamas attacks.

“It isn’t a war, it’s a genocide that has already killed almost 2,000 children that have nothing to do with the war. They are victims of war. Honestly, as a human being, I don’t know how someone is capable of waging a war knowing the result is the death of innocent kids,” he said. 

That same day, Lula talked by phone with the Emir of Qatar as part of the diplomatic effort to repatriate Brazilians, in face of the impasse between authorities over opening the border with Egypt. At the time, the Brazilian president had already spoken to leaders of several countries, including Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, France, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, with the aim of mediating a solution to the conflict.

Back then, there were almost 5,000 deaths in Gaza due to Israel’s attacks. Two days later (on October 27), during a breakfast with journalists that cover the Presidency of the Republic, Lula raised the tone again by saying the Israeli Prime Minister's goal was “to end with the Gaza Strip.”

“Now, what we are seeing is the insanity of Israel’s prime minister wanting to end with the Gaza Strip, forgetting there are more than Hamas soldiers there. There are women and children, the biggest victims of this war,” he said. On the occasion, the Brazilian president made it clear that his government doesn’t consider Hamas a terrorist group, despite using this term to refer to the attack on October 7. 

"I didn't want the Brazilian press to have any doubts about Brazil's behavior. It only recognizes as a terrorist organization what the UN Security Council recognizes. And Hamas is not recognized by the UN Security Council as a terrorist organization, because it contested elections in the Gaza Strip and won. What did we say? Hamas' act was terrorist," said Lula.

Edited by: Lucas Estanislau