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Former Brazilian president flies Israeli flag at São Paulo rally

Estimates of the gathering in São Paulo ranged from nearly 200,000 to more than 1 million people.

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waves an Israeli flag at a rally in Sao Paolo, Brazil, on Feb. 25, 2024. Source: Screenshot.
Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waves an Israeli flag at a rally in Sao Paolo, Brazil, on Feb. 25, 2024. Source: Screenshot.

Many of the tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets in São Paulo, Brazil, on Sunday in support of the country’s former president Jair Bolsonaro—including Bolsonaro himself—were waving Israeli flags as a gesture of defiance against the country’s current leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro called for the rally in response to a police investigation into his role in attacks on government buildings by his supporters in January after he lost the election.

A research group at the University of São Paulo estimated 185,000 people participated, while the Brazilian military police said the crowd was larger, according to the Associated Press. Others, including Sacha Roytman, CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, claimed that a million people were present.

Da Silva “has received widespread criticism at home for comparing Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Holocaust,” according to AP.

Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared Lula persona non grata over his comparison of Israel’s war against Hamas to the Nazi genocide.

Katz, the son of Holocaust survivors, told Brazil’s Ambassador Federico Mayer during a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem that Israel “will not forget and we will not forgive” until the president expresses contrition.

“I want to tell you here that the remarks made by President Lula when he compared the just war of the State of Israel against Hamas which murdered and massacred Jews and Hitler and the Nazis are an utter disgrace, and a severe antisemitic attack on the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” Katz told the ambassador.

A day earlier, Lula told reporters during a trip to Ethiopia that, “What’s happening in the Gaza Strip isn’t a war, it’s a genocide. What’s happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn’t happened at any other moment in history. Actually, it has happened: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Lula subsequently recalled his ambassador to Israel as bilateral relations between the two countries went into a full-blown crisis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has accused Lula of being a “virulent antisemite,” told visiting American Jewish leaders last week that the Brazilian leader had disgraced the memory of those murdered in the Holocaust.

“The words of the president of Brazil are shameful and alarming. This is about trivializing the Holocaust and trying to harm the Jewish people and Israel’s right to defend itself,” said Netanyahu.

“Israel fights for its defense and securing its future until complete victory and it does so while upholding international law,” he added.

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