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Brazilian senator: Lula radicalism not indicative of nation’s history with Israel

“Israel serves as the main target for the left in Brazil,” Sen. Carlos Viana told JNS in a phone interview.

Sen. Carlos Viana  of Brazil. Credit: Agência Senado.
Sen. Carlos Viana of Brazil. Credit: Agência Senado.

The virulent anti-Israel radicalism espoused by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is at odds with Brazilian history, which has a long history of friendship with the Jewish people, a Brazilian senator said on Wednesday.

The remarks come as the South American nation officially recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv as relations between the two countries have plummeted to historic lows. Israel has declared the Brazilian leader a persona non grata over his comparison of Israel’s war against Hamas to the Holocaust.

“Lula’s voice of violent radicalism does not belong to Brazilian history, and especially not to Brazilian diplomacy,” Brazilian Sen. Carlos Viana told JNS in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

He added that Lula’s policies were at odds with the majority of Brazilian people who support Israel and are against an internationally declared terror organization like Hamas.

“Lula is simply looking for international visibility to put Brazil in a place between the big countries in the world,” said Viana. “Israel serves as the main target for the left in Brazil.”

An evangelical lawmaker who is a leading voice for the Jewish state in the Brazilian parliament, Viana is president of both the Evangelical Caucus and the Israel Caucus that is part of the Israel Allies Foundation network of scores of faith-based caucuses around the globe. He traces his roots to descendants of Sephardic Jews who escaped the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal and eventually made their way to Brazil.

Anti-BDS bills before the Brazilian Congress

The senator has brought forward three bills before the National Assembly, including one against boycotting Israel, which puts him on a collision course with the president; another that would consider antisemitic actions as heinous crimes punishable by four to eight years in prison; and one that would establish a national week in the country against antisemitism.

The lawmaker said he hopes to pass the bills into law by the end of the year in an anticipated legislative-executive showdown.

In December, the senator led a group of eight Brazilian lawmakers to Israel on a solidarity mission as the war against Hamas was raging and relations between the two countries were nose-diving.

Brazilian Sen. Carlos Viana
Sen. Carlos Viana of Brazil on a visit to Israel in December 2023. Credit: Agência Senado.

At the beginning of the year, relations went into free fall after the Brazilian president stated that Israel was committing genocide in the Gaza Strip, and likened the Jewish state to Hitler and the Nazis. After being declared a persona non grata by Israel, Brasília recalled its ambassador for consultations.

Led by former President Jair Bolsonaro, who was stalwartly pro-Israel, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets with Israeli flags.

Still, the feud escalated.

Lula doubled down, claiming in April that more than 12 million children had died in Gaza and Israel. The total population of the Gaza Strip is estimated at 2.3 million.

Then on Wednesday, it was reported that the ambassador had been given a new posting with no plans to return an ambassador to Tel Aviv.

At the front lines supporting Israel

In the interview, the Brazilian senator revealed that the government also tried but failed to end defense and military contracts with Israel.

Brazilian Sen. Carlos Viana with Amir Ohana
Brazilian Sen. Carlos Viana with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana at Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy.

The once-close ties between the two countries, which were rock-solid during the reign of Bolsonaro, a conservative, date back to the creation of Israel when Brazil held the presidency office of the U.N. General Assembly in 1947, which proclaimed the Partition Plan for Palestine.

Brazilian Ambassador Oswaldo Aranha, then-chairman of the General Assembly, supported and heavily lobbied for the partition of Palestine towards the establishment of a Jewish state, even though Brazil later abstained in the voting process. Still, it recognized the newly established State of Israel on Feb. 7, 1949, less than one year after the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

“In this information war, we are at the front lines supporting Israel in Brazil,” Viana said. “The people of Israel can be assured that the people of Brazil love and support Israel.”

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