Brazilian diplomat played a crucial role in Israel's creation - opinion

Oswaldo Aranha supported and steadily negotiated to reach a majority in favor of the 1947 resolution that partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine.

Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha was highly instrumental in the UN General Assembly’s approval of the partition of Palestine. (photo credit: UNITED NATIONS)
Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha was highly instrumental in the UN General Assembly’s approval of the partition of Palestine.
(photo credit: UNITED NATIONS)

In the week that has marked the anniversary of the historical adoption of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, I have the honor to remember a Brazilian diplomat who played a crucial role in the creation of the State of Israel: Oswaldo Aranha, who presided over the United Nations General Assembly meeting held on November 29, 1947. More than coordinating that international body in a historical moment, Aranha supported and steadily negotiated to reach a majority in favor of the resolution that partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine.

We’re deeply honored to know that a Brazilian statesman with the character and moral fiber of Aranha played a key role in the process that allowed the Jewish people to make their dream of establishing a national state come true. Throughout their lives, many Israelis watch, from time to time, the grainy black-and-white footage of the votes being counted at the UN – and Oswaldo Aranha is at the head of the session, the one who declares that “the resolution has passed.” What is less well-known is the fact that Aranha was highly instrumental in the assembly’s approval of the partition of Palestine, insofar as he was able to postpone the voting by two days.

A skillful diplomat, Aranha saw that the partition would not obtain the necessary two-thirds of the votes on time and convinced allies to lengthen their speeches in order to prevent the vote from being taken that day. Aranha then was able to call for the decision to be postponed – and as the next day was a holiday in the United States, his move bought the time needed to get the additional votes. For his efforts at the UN and his strategic vision, Aranha was among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948.

In the history of 20th century Brazil, Aranha also plays an oversized role as one of the most important statesmen that helped shape our own nation. Between the 1930s and 1950s he served as justice and interior affairs minister, ambassador to the United States and foreign affairs, finance and agriculture minister. He also had an important part in at least two other moments that helped tie the history of Brazil with that of Israel.

In the internal disputes within the Brazilian government during the Second World War, Aranha was crucial in pushing for Brazil to join on the side of the Allies in the fight against Nazism and Fascism in Europe. He successfully championed for Brazil to become the only South American country to send troops abroad during the war: 25,000 Brazilians, including Jewish Brazilian soldiers, fought in Italy and saw heavy combat along the arduous Gothic Line and in the 1945 final offensive. Hundreds of young Brazilians made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom fighting alongside the Allied Forces, and Aranha’s own son, also named Oswaldo, was among those who joined the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in Europe.

 JEWS CELEBRATE in the streets of Tel Aviv moments after the United Nations voted on November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine into two states. (credit: REUTERS) JEWS CELEBRATE in the streets of Tel Aviv moments after the United Nations voted on November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine into two states. (credit: REUTERS)

As was recently highlighted by researcher Moshe Waldman in a lecture I attended at the Brazilian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv, Aranha might also be partly responsible for making the strict immigration laws that were established in many countries in the 1930s a little less rigid in the case of Brazil. This change in policy in turn might have led to more Jewish immigrants being able to reach South America. Brazil is now home to more than 110,000 Brazilian Jews, the tenth largest Jewish community in the world.

His fame even entered the culinary culture of Brazil, as he lends his name to a classic recipe: filet Oswaldo Aranha is a well-known dish in Rio de Janeiro, paying homage to the fact that the diplomat would order it frequently at his favorite restaurant. Its preparation involves a pan-seared filet mignon with a whole head of garlic chopped into fine slices and fried in olive oil placed on top of the steak. I invite you to try it one day when visiting Brazil.

If you want to make a much shorter trip, you can pay a visit to the streets named in honor of Oswaldo Aranha in Tel Aviv and in Beersheba, or the Oswaldo Aranha Square located near Mamilla Pool in Jerusalem. An important piece of Israeli history is also housed at Kibbutz Bror Hayil in southern Israel, where an exhibit displays the original gavel used by Oswaldo Aranha when he presided over the decisive 1947 vote at the UN.

Seventy-four years ago, that watershed moment in history helped establish strong ties between Brazil and Israel. We are proud to say that this is a partnership that continues growing stronger to this very day.

The writer is the ambassador of Brazil to Israel. A four-star General of the Brazilian Army, he holds a PhD in Strategic Planning and, among other previous roles, was the military counselor of the Brazilian Mission to the United Nations.