Brazilians are still shocked by the traumatic elimination in the World Cup last month. As a football lover and a Brazilian myself, did I have a hard time facing the wave of jokes made by my German and Argentinian friends. Of course! Yet, that was not the most embarrassing situation we have recently gone through.
The Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, the "Itamaraty," published a diplomatic statement saying “we condemn Israel for the disproportionate use of force in Gaza”. Then, the Brazilian Ambassador in Tel Aviv was recalled to Brasilia for consultation - clearly a diplomatic protest. Finally, a series of disastrous declarations by the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff and her Adviser for International Affairs, Marco Aurelio Garcia, emphasized the critics. Garcia told the press that “Israel commits genocide of the Palestinian people”. In an attempt to correct him, Rousseff ironically stated that “IDF does not commit genocide, it commits a massacre”.
In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry called Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf” and stated that Brazil is not helping Israel to achieve a solution but rather is becoming part of the actual problem.
(Brazilians protest in front of the Brazilian Embassy in Tel Aviv. Photo Credit: Nicole Najdzion)
Brazil is internationally known for its pluralistic values. Unlike the anti-Semitic trends in Europe, the Jewish Community in Brazil has never been targeted by anti-Semitic actions. As for instance, Vila Madalena, a trendy neighborhood in São Paulo, is flooded by Yuppies on their way to their favorite restaurants, clubs and pubs. It is known for its’ authentic Lebanese restaurants frequented largely by both Arabs and Jews.
Sadly, due to the Brazilian Government’s actions, consequences have started to sprout from the Jewish community. According to Juventude Judaica Organizada, an Organization of Young Brazilian Jews with more than 17,000 followers on its Facebook page, “We have been noticing that a few anti-Semitic cases emerged throughout Brazil”, they added, “Brazil’s Journalists and Politicians usually base their critics against Israel on anti-Semitic roots”.
Brazil’s leadership position in South America allows it to influence the region and triggered a series of similar actions by its neighboring countries, like Argentina, Chile (which has the largest Palestinian community in South America) and Peru. Venezuela and Bolivia, that have no diplomatic relations with Israel, were expected to condemn Israel during the conflict. The Brazilian diplomatic approach was not a big surprise either. Brazil’s tendentious criticism exposed underlying interests which remain largely unmentioned.
Brazil has been trying to approach Iran, under the influence of its big BRICS’ cousins, Russia and China. You might remember that the former Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was welcomed with a red carpet in Tehran and shook the hand of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the pinnacle of Iran’s nuclear program.
Beyond being interested in the bilateral relations with Iran, Brazil aids Russia and China in asserting its diplomatic interests in the region and trying to reform the system of global governance. In exchange, they support Brazil in international affairs, like backing Brazil''s interests in the World Trade Organization. Additionally, the Chinese have been heavily investing in Brazil, as for instance, they acquired twenty percent of the rights to explore the Brazilian largest oil field. China is the top trading partner of Brazil since 2009.
Moreover, there is nothing better than being populist on the eve of presidential elections. In October, Brazilians will decide whether to keep Rousseff as president for another mandated four years or to change the workers’ party legacy of twelve years in power. Last month, corruption scandals, accused by the opposition, involved Dilma Rousseff and were intensely exploited by the press.
Therefore, taking the public focus in the Middle East is a safeguard for the Government candidate to keep the voters’ mind distant from the local issues.
Finally, Rousseff´s left-wing party, the workers'' party, is deeply rooted in the socialist rhetoric with historical opposition to the United States and its allies’ political, economic and military policies. The same ideology aligns with other South American governments, like Maduro in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, Mujica in Uruguay, Kirchner in Argentina and Correa in Ecuador.
It is evident that Brazil''s leaders externalized their political views based on underlying interests rather than substantiating their arguments to condemn Israel.
However, this harsh wave of politicized criticism does not necessarily represent the public opinion. According to a poll carried out by the largest newspaper in São Paulo, A Folha, seventy-four percent of its readers believe that Israel did not use disproportionate force and that victims on the Israeli side were minimized only because of the Iron Dome. Due to the development of these events, there is an increasing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in the region, which hopefully will not last longer than the recent football “massacre”.
Daniel Rabetti was born in Brazil, and has lived in Israel since 2009. He is a teaching assistant at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He writes about politics and economics involving the Middle East and South America. His articles have been published in popular magazines, newspapers and blogs.