After the end of negotiations for the repatriation of Brazilians who were in the Gaza Strip, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) once again raised his tone against Israel. The PT member had been avoiding commenting on the war in recent weeks due to the country’s influence in the removal of foreigners from the Gaza Strip. The fear was that comments about the country could delay negotiations for the evacuation of Brazilians and their families. Opposition entities and parliamentarians repudiated Lula’s statements against Israel (read below).
After the group crossed the Egyptian border, however, the Brazilian leader soon went public to criticize Israel. This Monday (13), the PT member even relativized the conflict, just as he did with the war between Russia and Ukraine. “If Hamas committed an act of terrorism, the State of Israel is committing another act of terrorism by not taking into account that children are not at war, that women are not at war. By not taking into account that they are not killing soldiers, they are also killing children,” said Lula.
According to Manuel Furriela, professor of law and international relations at the FMU University Center, Lula abandoned the position of neutrality and pragmatism that Brazilian diplomacy claims to be its hallmark to criticize Israel. According to Furriela, the Palestinian people have legitimate demands, such as the creation of their state, but Hamas’ terrorist attacks cannot be accepted to recognize the rights of Palestinians.
The PT member made similar statements about the war in Europe. Just over a year after the start of the conflict between the two nations, Lula said that Ukraine was as responsible for the war as Russia — the conflict began in February 2022 after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops invade Ukrainian territory.
“I keep seeing the president of Ukraine on television as if he was celebrating, receiving a standing ovation from all the parliaments, you know? This guy is as responsible as Putin. He is as responsible as Putin. Because in a war there is not just one person to blame “, Lula told the magazine Team in May.
The recent statements were made during the arrival of the group of 32 citizens who were brought from Gaza to Brasília, where the president, the first lady and some ministers accompanied the group’s landing. After nine other flights of repatriates that arrived in the federal capital, this was the first one received by President Lula.
According to the PT member, the group’s arrival in the country was the “crowning of the government’s serious work”. Almost 40 days ago, the federal government was negotiating the repatriation of Brazilians who were in the conflict zone. With the escalation of the war and Israel’s borders closed, the only way to leave the conflict region was through Rafah, on the border with Egypt. The passage, however, took weeks to open.
Brazilian diplomats, including Lula, even made phone calls to the presidents of Egypt and Israel, as well as the emir of Qatar and other international leaders who were involved in the departure of foreigners from Gaza. Brazilians, however, took a while to have their names included on a list with permission to leave the region, while the first foreigners were authorized to leave on November 1st.
Diplomacy avoided comments on the repatriation of Brazilians to contain wear and tear
A People’s Gazette found that, due to the time of war and because of the Brazilians who were still in Gaza, the Itamaraty Palace and the Planalto Palace did not want to cause even greater stress with the Israeli government. In the opposite direction, however, members of the Workers’ Party (PT), Lula’s party, criticized Israel and the country’s ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshine.
Last week, after Zonshine met with former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL) at the National Congress, PT president Gleisi Hoffmann used her profile on X (formerly Twitter) to criticize the Israeli representative. “Once again the Israeli ambassador to Brazil interfered unduly in our country’s internal politics, in a public event with the ineligible Jair Bolsonaro, held in the middle of the National Congress,” she wrote.
The criticism was yet another among the notes of repudiation that the party released when citing the conflict in the Middle East. In one of the texts, the PT called the deaths in the Gaza Strip “genocide” and condemned Israel for the war. “We condemn the unacceptable attacks, murders and kidnapping of civilians, committed by both Hamas and the State of Israel, which is carrying out, at this very moment, a genocide against the population of Gaza, through a series of war crimes,” said the caption through a note released on October 16th.
A similar narrative was being adopted by Lula until a few weeks ago. “What is happening right now in the Middle East is very serious, in other words, it is not about discussing who is right, who is wrong, who fired the first shot, who fired the second. The problem is this: it is not a war, it is a genocide that has already killed almost 2 thousand children who have nothing to do with this war, who are victims of this war”, said the president in October.
After the first foreigners left Gaza, on October 1st, Lula adopted a more appeasing speech and began to avoid statements about the war. The report also found that advisors from Planalto were working to contain the president — there was a fear that friction with Israel could further delay the rescue of Brazilians in the Gaza Strip.
Shaken relationship with Israel gains new developments again
Despite the restrained speech of recent weeks, President Lula once again criticized Israel even before the returnees arrived in Brazil. On the morning of last Monday (13), a few hours after the Brazilians took off towards Brazil, the president said that the “solution of the State of Israel is as serious as that of Hamas”.
The statement was made during the sanctioning ceremony of the bill that updates the Quota Law. The PT member also stated that Israel was “killing innocent people without any criteria”. “Throwing bombs where there are children, where there are hospitals, under the pretext that the terrorist is there, [isso] there is no explanation. First we’re going to save children, women, and then we’ll fight with whoever wants to do it”, said the president.
In the same speech, Lula also claimed that the release of the Brazilians “depended on the good will of Israel”, implying that the country could be late in releasing the nationals. An understanding that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira, tried to reject in recent days. In an interview with Globo News last week, the chancellor said that there was “no basis” in a possible retaliation by the Israeli government with Brazil.
Experts feared that Brazil’s position as president of the United Nations Security Council could have contributed to the deterioration of the bilateral relationship. The country tried to pass a resolution considered “soft” in the eyes of Israel and the United States — the main defender of the Israeli state. The document was vetoed by Washington, which claimed that the approval of a resolution that could not guarantee “Israel’s right to self-defense” was inadmissible.
After the returnees arrived on Brazilian soil, the president took advantage of the moment he welcomed them to criticize Israel again. Without making any mention of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the PT member stated that “part of the human beings who govern the world, of humans, have nothing left”.
“If someone has no mercy in releasing a bomb to kill people in the hospital, newborns, children, I honestly don’t know what human being we are talking about,” said the president. The speech makes reference to the bombing that took place at the Al Ahli Christian hospital, in the Gaza Strip, on October 17th. Israelis and Hamas terrorists exchanged accusations against each other about authorship of the attack that killed more than 500 people in the region.
Israel has shown video evidence that Hamas hides its command bases and weapons depots in tunnels under hospitals in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday night (14), Israeli ground forces raided al-Shifa, the hospital that is over what would be Hamas’ largest command center.
The current tone adopted by the PT member should continue in future meetings with international leaders. A People’s Gazettepreviously, the political analysis consultant at BMJ Consultores Associados Nicholas Borges opined that the PT member should take a stance on the war when he is abroad — which has not yet happened because, since the beginning of the conflict, Lula was in Brasília recovering from an hip surgery and, therefore, was unable to travel.
“Brazil, in the form of President Lula, has already signaled that it will discuss in international forums that the country will not accept an indefinite Israeli military occupation of Gaza. Brazil must be explicitly and actively opposed to these Israeli intentions to permanently occupy the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Lula uses repatriation politically
With a total of ten repatriation flights carried out by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) in the Middle East, the arrival of the group from Gaza, however, was the only one that President Lula welcomed. On the occasion, the PT member took the opportunity to praise the efforts made by his government to remove Brazilians from the conflict zone and the resolution that Brazil presented to the Security Council.
“The arrival of this 10th plane in Brazil is the culmination of a very serious work and one that we owe to many people who work in the government. Like the Brazilian Air Force and especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs [Mauro Vieira] who did an exceptional job, especially when he assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council”, said Lula.
For Lula, the text presented by Vieira was “successful”, despite having been vetoed by the United States. Despite no longer being president of the body, the PT member stated that he will not stop demanding “humanist behavior” from the presidents of the UN Security Council.
After the return of the group that was in Gaza, the president should use the repatriation to try to gain prominence in internal politics after the narrative dispute with Bolsonaro regarding the negotiations to remove Brazilians from the conflict region.
Criticism of Lula for statements against Israel
The PT member’s speech – which equated Israel’s counterattack to Hamas’ terrorist acts – was considered “dangerous” by the Brazilian Israeli Confederation (Conib). The entity of the Brazilian Jewish community repudiated the statement given by the PT member on Monday (13) and repeated this Tuesday (14) during the weekly live “Conversa com o Presidente”.
“In addition to being mistaken and unfair, statements like this from the President of the Republic are also dangerous. They encourage among their many followers a distorted and radicalized view of the conflict, at a time when the Brazilian government’s own security bodies are acting competently to arrest terrorist networks that were planning attacks against Jews in Brazil,” Conib said in a note (read in in full).
The Evangelical Parliamentary Front of the National Congress is considering starting a new obstruction against the government in repudiation. In a note, signed together with the Brazil-Israel Parliamentary Group, the two groups highlighted that Lula should thank Israel for the release of the Brazilians.
“President Lula should thank the Israelis who alerted the Brazilian Federal Police about possible terrorist attacks by Hezbollah in Brazil, which would certainly kill innocent people in our territory. Lula omits that Hamas carried out a cowardly attack on the State of Israel, killing, raping and burning close to 1,300 people. Another three hundred are held hostage by the terrorist group in Gaza”, says an excerpt from the note.
In addition to them, StandWithUs Brasil, an entity linked to the Israeli government, also repudiated Lula’s statement this Tuesday (14).
“Such statements, however, are quite serious. The Brazilian president continues to equate Israel, a democratic State, with a terrorist group with openly genocidal intentions that massacred around 1,200 people – including three Brazilians – and kidnapped more than 240 people,” said the entity, in a statement.