In recent months, the Israeli Confederation of Brazil (Conib) filed a series of legal actions against journalist Breno Altman, who has harshly criticized the State of Israel’s stance in the current conflict in the Middle East, going so far as to relativize the seriousness of the Hamas actions. Altman had some of his social media posts censored. He is also the subject of a request to suspend his profiles.
Among Altman’s recent phrases that have caused controversy are some such as:
- “We may not like Hamas, disagreeing with its policies and methods. But this organization is a decisive part of the Palestinian resistance against the colonial State of Israel. Remembering the Chinese saying, at this moment it doesn’t matter what color cats are, as long as they hunt mice.”
- “The racist colonial state of Israel must be subjected to boycott, divestment and sanctions, like South Africa during apartheid.”
- “Brazilian Zionists swear and threaten. But they are deeply fearful and cowardly, internet bullies. I’ve known these people since childhood.”
Jurists consulted by People’s Gazette consider that censorship of journalist content violates the constitutional right to freedom of expression. For them, although he used aggressive and hostile language against the State of Israel and turned a blind eye to the terrorist group Hamas, Altman did not practice racism, as suggested by both Conib’s actions and the justification of the São Paulo Court of Justice judge ( TJ-SP) responsible for censorship decisions.
Alessandro Chiarottino, PhD in Constitutional Law from USP, highlights the importance of differentiating racism, including anti-Semitism, from criticism of political ideologies. He argues that, although Altman’s speeches against Israel can be considered mistaken and even aggressive, they do not necessarily characterize racism or anti-Semitism.
“Taking a stance against the State of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitism,” he says. “In Brazilian legislation, there is a conception according to which racism – and here we include anti-Semitism – is considered a crime and, therefore, would not fall within freedom of expression. Now, for anti-Semitism to really be characterized, there must be attacks to the Jewish people as a whole, whether verbal, written or physical.”
Altman’s most controversial tweet, the target of one of the censorship decisions, ends with a sentence that caused controversy: “Remembering the Chinese saying, at this moment it doesn’t matter what color cats are, as long as they hunt mice,” he said. Users of the social network X accused him of using “rats” in reference to Jews.
The phrase is commonly attributed to Deng Xiaoping, China’s reformist leader, who used it to symbolize his pragmatic approach to economic policies at the end of the 20th century. Deng argued that, regardless of the methods, the important thing was to achieve the desired objective. “His speech [de Altman], however mistaken it may be, does not characterize racism. Nor did he compare Jews to rats,” says Chiarottino.
Constitutional lawyer André Marsiglia, a specialist in freedom of expression, emphasizes that the exclusion of demonstrations should always be Justice’s last alternative. He argues that opinions, due to their subjective nature, should not be censored, but rather confronted through dialogue or, in cases of exceeding the limits of the law, sanctioned with compensation.
Marsiglia criticizes the initiative of trying to judicially manage other people’s opinions. “Firstly, it is opinionated content. We cannot say whether this is true or a lie, because there is subjectivity behind his opinion. Secondly, there are other ways of punishing him if he has gone too far, such as compensatory punishments. Exclusion as punishment, in this case, it seems to me to be in dialogue with a censorious intention”, he comments.
Last week, the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), a collegial body made up of several NGOs and linked to the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship (MDHC), published a note in defense of Breno Altman. The organization stated that Conib “tries to silence” Altman and that it views “with great concern the escalation of censorship of journalists and communicators and the use of legal mechanisms to curb the free expression of opinion.”
“Hate speech” cited as reason for censorship
In the first decision to censor Altman, on December 22 last year, judge Salles Vieira, from the 2nd Chamber of Private Law of the TJ-SP, asked for the removal of “any and all posts that contain, even minimally, a speech by hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.” For the jurists consulted by the report, the decision is vague, and the judge was wrong to mention “hate speech” as a criminal offense.
“Hate speech is not a crime typified anywhere in our legislation. And, in addition, there is immense subjectivity in this judicial determination. One of the ways to avoid censorship when deleting content is precisely to be objective”, says Marsiglia .
For Chiarottino, the Brazilian legal system guarantees the citizen’s prerogative to externalize their hatred. “We have limits for this, which are given by the Constitution and our jurisprudence, and the limit is the practice of the crime of racism. If someone enters the social network and starts to spread the word that a certain ethnic group is intrinsically bad, that it does not deserve the rights that others deserve, that deserves to be attacked, then, yes, there is a characterization of racism. Now, criticizing the State of Israel, saying that such a policy is oppressive, that they are practicing discrimination against the Palestinian population… Saying this is not racism. “
Marsiglia highlights the importance of a Judiciary capable of acting without politicizing matters and adhering to principles. “The politicization of content unfortunately contaminates the principles regarding freedom of expression in the country’s debate”, he says.
For the jurist, the lack of coherence is one of the greatest obstacles to the defense of freedom of expression in the country. “The freedom of expression that counts becomes the freedom of expression of me and mine. If someone disagrees with me, another type of reference regarding freedom of expression is valid for them.”