‘A perverse distortion’: Brazil’s Jews slam Lula’s comparison of Israel to Nazis

Community heads warn president’s statements are contributing to a spike in antisemitism; pro-Israel activist says he is making country ‘an international joke’

Claudio Lottenberg, president of CONIB, Brazil's Jewish communal umbrella organization. (Courtesy)
Claudio Lottenberg, president of CONIB, Brazil's Jewish communal umbrella organization. (Courtesy)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Major Jewish organizations in Brazil on Sunday condemned President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza and comparing its actions in the war against Hamas to those of Nazi Germany.

Jewish umbrella organization CONIB repudiated what it called “a perverse distortion of reality” by Lula. “The Brazilian government has been adopting an extreme and unbalanced stance in regards to the tragic conflict, abandoning the country’s foreign policy tradition of balance and of seeking dialogue,” a statement read.

Ricardo Berkiensztat, the executive president of FISESP, the Jewish Federation of Sao Paolo, the biggest Jewish community in Brazil, said: “With every comment, every statement by President Lula, comes a growing number of antisemitic demonstrations on social media and threats to the local Jewish community.”

He warned that “we believe that the situation could worsen.”

Ricardo Berkiensztat, the executive president of FISESP, which represents the Sao Paulo Jewish community in Brazil (courtesy)

André Lajst, the executive president of pro-Israel lobby Stand With Us Brazil, called Lula’s remarks a “trivialization of the Holocaust.” In his X (formerly Twitter) profile, he wrote that the statements from Brazil’s president show he “knows absolutely nothing about history, much less about international relations.”

Lajst warned such conduct causes Brazil to lose respect and its prestige in the diplomatic world, in addition to offending millions of Jews. Lajst said Brazil was becoming “an international joke.”

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a press conference in Addis Ababa on February 18, 2024. (Ricardo STUCKERT / Brazilian Presidency / AFP)

Claudio Lottenberg, CONIB President, told The Times of Israel that his organization “has been trying to establish a constructive dialogue with various members of Brazil’s government in light of the unbalanced stances it adopted in the conflict.”

A December 18 meeting with Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira was held “to express our concern,” Lottenberg said. The meeting also addressed issues such as the safety of the Jewish community and a rise in antisemitism and hate speech in the country.

At the meeting with Vieira, the leaders showed the minister data that attests to an increase of over 1,000% in antisemitic events in Brazil since the Hamas attacks, Lottenberg said.

“Hateful situations and expressions that the Jewish community believed belonged to a dark past are multiplying through social networks,” according to a CONIB statement.

The president of the Brazil-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Renato Ochman, told The Times of Israel that “the Brazilian government’s stance [regarding the conflict]… inhibits commercial relations.” According to Ochman, Brazil and Israel have tripled their trade balance in recent years.

President of the Brazil-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry Renato Ochman. (Courtesy)

“We continue with our efforts to maintain constant commercial relations between the two countries, trying to avoid political issues,” he said. “We cannot forget that Israeli products, especially advanced technology, are fundamental for [Brazil’s] population, especially in the medical, security, and intelligence areas.”

Israel responded with outrage to Lula’s comments, with the prime minister and foreign minister calling them “shameful” and saying the country’s ambassador would be summoned for a “stern reprimand.”

Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, said the comments represented blatant antisemitism and were “an outrageous combination of hatred and ignorance.”

“Comparing a country fighting against a murderous terror organization to the actions of the Nazis in the Holocaust is worthy of all condemnation,” he added. “It is sad that the president of Brazil has stooped to such a level of extreme distortion of the Holocaust.”

The Jewish state’s war with Hamas broke out on October 7, after the organization’s terrorists launched an unprecedented attack on Israel’s south, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 amid acts of brutality including sexual violence.

Israel declared war on Hamas with the proclaimed objectives of dismantling the terrorist organization and getting the hostages back.

Gaza health authorities say more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel declared war on October 7, vowing to destroy Hamas and eliminate its military and governance capabilities. The figures issued by the Hamas-run health ministry cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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