Brazil’s Lula doubles down on claim Israel committing genocide in Gaza

Left-wing leader reiterates remarks that outraged Israel, which vehemently rejects the charge and says it is fighting a complex war against Hamas terrorists, not Palestinians

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during the inauguration of the Gentileza transportation terminal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 23, 2024. (AP/Bruna Prado)
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during the inauguration of the Gentileza transportation terminal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 23, 2024. (AP/Bruna Prado)

Brazil’s president once again alleged Saturday that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, doubling down on the rhetoric after stirring controversy last week by comparing Israel’s war with the Hamas terror group in Gaza to the Holocaust “when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Israel has vehemently rejected the genocide claims, saying its war is targeting the Palestinian terror group Hamas, not the Palestinian people, following its October 7 massacre across southern Israel.

It has held Hamas largely responsible for civilian deaths, accusing the terror group of deliberately operating from civilian areas and using the local population as human shields.

Lula wrote on X Saturday that he will not give up his “dignity for falsehood,” an apparent reference to calls for him to retract his previous comments.

“What the Israeli government is doing is not war, it is genocide,” he charged, reiterating similar comments from last week. “Children and women are being murdered.”

Israel responded with outrage to Lula’s comments last week, calling them “shameful,” and declared the veteran left-wing leader a persona non grata. Jerusalem also summoned Brazil’s ambassador for a rebuke and demanded an apology.

In response, Brazil recalled its ambassador for talks, and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Zonshine was himself summoned for a reprimand.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem, February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel has been fighting Hamas, a heavily armed terror group that ruled Gaza for 16 years, in response to the deadliest attack on its population in its history, when thousands of Palestinian terrorists broke through the border on October 7 and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid acts of brutality and sexual violence. Terrorists also abducted 253 into Gaza, over 100 of whom remain captive — some not alive — following a temporary truce in late November that freed 105 hostages.

Israel has repeatedly said Hamas is using Palestinian civilians as human shields, including by locating operations bases under hospitals, launching rockets from schools and shelters, building tunnels shafts under children’s bedrooms, storing weapons in and around schools and mosques, and more, amid the ongoing war.

Captured Hamas terrorists have confirmed some of the human shield claims, explaining for example that Hamas knows Israel will not target hospitals, medical centers and facilities.

A vehicle belonging to an Israeli hostage (right) and a Hamas pickup truck (left) are seen at northern Gaza’s Indonesian Hospital, in a video published by the IDF on December 25, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has also argued it makes efforts to minimize the deaths of Gazan civilians, including through evacuations of combat zones. Hamas’s unverified figures point to around 30,000 Gazans killed in the war, or slightly over 1 percent of the Strip’s total estimated population. Israel says at least 12,000 of those were terror operatives.

Israel has said the war would end if Hamas were to release the remaining hostages and surrender.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded harshly to Lula’s previous comments, saying: “The words of the President of Brazil are shameful and alarming. This is a trivialization of the Holocaust and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and Israel’s right to defend itself.”

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

Foreign Minister Israel Katz called the comments “shameful and grave.”

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

Israeli soldiers stand outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP/Victor R. Caivano)

Last month, South Africa filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza and demanded the court order Israel to stop the fighting.

The case is expected to last years. The court refused South Africa’s request to take immediate measures to order Israel to halt its campaign, but said there was “plausibility” to Pretoria’s claim that Israel was in breach of certain elements of the Genocide Convention amid the war and said Jerusalem must make efforts to prevent harm to civilians.

Israel’s former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who served on the panel as Israel’s representative, argued that the ruling was based on “scant evidence.”

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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