Diplomats are supposed to be optimists, or at least euphemists. (Recall the old joke: If a lady says “no” she means “maybe,” if she says “maybe” she means “yes,” and if she says “yes” she’s no lady. Whereas, if a diplomat says “yes” he means “maybe,” if he says “maybe” he means “no,” and if he says “no” he’s no diplomat.)

So it’s understandable that Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, while addressing the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington this week, would try to find examples of hope for peaceful co-existence between Jews and Arabs in his own culture.

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Unfortunately for him, he chose a most undiplomatically correct example: the growing intermarriage rate between Brazilians of the two faiths.

While participating in a Q&A with AJC head honcho David Harris, Patriota said he was encouraged by all the intermarriage he saw between Jews and Arabs in Sao Paulo, remarking that “if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.”

Perhaps misinterpreting some of the murmurs and laughter in the audience, Patriota continued elaborating on the theme until Harris attempted to explain that the crowd reaction resulted from the fact that intermarriage is a “sensitive subject” in the Jewish community.
“But we won’t go there,” Harris said to more laughter.

Patriota, who was a gracious guest and clearly a welcome one, nevertheless continued to make other more politically charged remarks that weren’t necessarily the ones his audience had hoped to hear.

He explained the Brazilian decision to back the recognition of Palestinian statehood as one that stemmed largely from “frustration” with the stagnating peace process, but also one that reflected a feeling that it was important to “strengthen a little bit the hand of the weaker party in this negotiation.” He later said that Brazil was joined by so many countries in the region and around the world in doing so in part because the conflict was seen as an “unresolved colonial issue.”

He also described Venezuela as a “very important partner” for Brazil and said isolating Iran, which has a growing presence in Latin America, could worsen the situation.

But Patriota did stress that Brazil didn’t hold Israel responsible alone for the difficulties Palestinians face and that Israel’s security has been important to Brazil since it first voted to support Israel’s creation at the UN.

That relationship, he indicated, continued to be strong and enduring.

- Hilary Leila Krieger

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