Lula Is Right About Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Brazilian president Lula forcefully condemned Israel’s brutal war on Gaza on Sunday before expelling Israel’s ambassador to Brazil on Monday. These actions are part of his decades-long commitment to standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (C) attends the Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 17, 2024. (Michele Spatari / AFP via Getty Images)

On Sunday, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva delivered a scathing condemnation of Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Speaking at an African Union summit in Ethiopia, Lula accused Israel of committing a genocide that compares only to the Holocaust.

“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.”

Taking aim at Israel’s brutal assaults on civilians in Gaza, Lula added: “It’s not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It’s a war between a highly prepared army, and women and children.”

Israel predictably dismissed Lula’s remarks as antisemitic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Lula’s Holocaust parallel as “disgraceful and grave,” while Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced that Lula is “a persona non grata in Israel” until he takes back his comments.

But Lula refused to bow down. On Monday, Brazil recalled its Israeli ambassador from Tel Aviv and “summoned” the ambassador to a meeting.

The tragic irony is that Lula’s statement only confirms what Israeli politicians have been saying out loud over the past four months, and whose genocidal statements were cited as damning evidence at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide hearing last month. Israeli officials and top generals themselves have openly called for genocide in Gaza, pledging to turn the besieged strip into Auschwitz and Dresden, and even celebrating such atrocities.

In October last year, a former member and deputy speaker of the Knesset demanded: “There is one and only one solution, which is to completely destroy Gaza before invading it. . . . I mean destruction like it was in Dresden and Hiroshima, without a nuclear weapon.” In November, Israeli minister of economy Nir Barkat said: “I don’t remember Britain or the United States at the tail end of the Second World War bombing Dresden, thinking about the residents.” In December, an Israeli official demanded that Gaza should be “flattened completely, just like Auschwitz today.”

This is not the first time Lula has condemned Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. Last October, barely weeks into the Gaza genocide, Lula became one of the first world leaders to demand a cease-fire in Gaza, saying that “innocent people of Gaza must not pay the price for the insanity of those who want war.” In November, after Israel besieged Gaza’s largest hospital, Lula declared that “Israel’s attitude toward children, toward women, is the equivalent of terrorism. There’s no other way to put it.” He added: “If I know a place is full of children, even if there’s a monster inside, I can’t kill the children just because I want to kill the monster.”

Amid heavy Israeli air strikes on Gaza that month, Brazil became among the first countries to receive Palestinian refugees from Gaza. Welcoming the rescued refugees at the Brasilia Air Base in the capital, Lula accused Israel of killing innocent people without any criteria,” which he described as “brutal and inhumane violence against innocent people.”

As a leader of the Global South, the Lula Government led the way in Latin American in holding Israel accountable for its war crimes in Gaza. In January this year, Brazil backed South Africa’s ICJ genocide case against Israel, which later ruled on “plausible genocide” in Gaza. An official statement highlighted Lula’s role in the decision: “The president expressed his support for South Africa’s initiative to bring Israel before the ICJ to determine that Israel immediately ceases all acts and measures that may constitute genocide or related crimes under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

Lula’s remarks over the weekend are the culmination of his long-standing support for Palestine.

In March 2010, Lula made a historic visit to Israel and Palestine. Speaking at the Knesset, he reminded Israeli leaders that illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem were killing peace prospects in Palestine. Lula refused to visit the grave of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, in Israel. Instead, he visited Ramallah, where he laid a wreath on the tomb of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In a passionate speech, he called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state: “I dream of an independent and free Palestine living in peace in the Middle East.”

In December that year, the Lula government announced the recognition of the Palestinian state. He donated land in Brasília for the construction of a Palestinian embassy, appointed a special envoy, and opened a Representative Office in Ramallah. In a gesture of solidarity, Lula signed five bilateral agreements with the Palestinian government, covering agriculture, education, sports, health, and tourism sectors. Brazil’s recognition of Palestine led to a ripple effect in the region, as neighbors Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador joined Brazil in recognizing the Palestinian state that year, with Chile, Peru, Uruguay, and others following suit a year later.

Lula also carried the Palestinian cause to international forums. His UN speeches are replete with passionate defenses of Palestine as a “free and sovereign national state,” and seething condemnations of “Israel’s crimes and violations against Palestinians.” In one memorable speech in April last year, during an official visit to Spain, Lula lamented that while the UN created Israel in 1948, thanks to the Partition Plan, “in 2023, it fails to create a Palestinian state.” Speaking in Cairo last week, Lula reiterated his commitment to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Lula’s support for the Palestinian cause goes back decades. As a union leader in the 1980s, during the military dictatorship in Brazil, Lula viewed the question of Palestine as a fight between the oppressed and oppressors. He maintained formal relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization through his Workers’ Party (PT) and cultivated a personal relationship with Arafat. This marked the beginning of a strong and long-standing legacy of solidarity with the Palestinian cause in Brazil, encompassing Brazilian parties, trade unions, and popular movements that firmly support the cause of Palestinian liberation. (This week Brazil will have a chance to present its cause before the ICJ, as the court is set for the first time to review the legal consequences of Israel’s decades-long occupation, apartheid, and oppression of the Palestinian people, where countries are preparing to present their arguments and highlight Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.)

Lula’s moral clarity on Gaza comes amid shameful Western complicity — not to mention Arab complicity — in Israel’s genocide and war crimes in Gaza. Lula spoke as the Biden administration was preparing to send a new weapons shipment to Israel, while threatening to veto a new cease-fire resolution in the UN  (the United States has now made good on that threat). Just last week, a day after the Rafah massacres, the US Senate approved a lavish multibillion-dollar package in military aid for Israel.

John Kirby, White House national security spokesman, vowed that “we are going to continue to support Israel, despite Rafah.” Speaking on the White House lawn, President Joe Biden referred to the Rafah massacres as “our military operation in Rafah.” For those who have witnessed the Biden administration’s complicity in Israel’s genocide in Gaza over the past four months, his blunder sounded like more than a slip of the tongue. (Lula was clearly aiming at the United States when he declared last week: “The right to veto must end, and the members of the UN Security Council must be pacifist players, and not actors who foment war.”)

The death toll in Gaza is nearing thirty thousand civilians, half of them children, with nearly two million others displaced. As Israel gears up for its ground invasion of Rafah, where some 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are taking shelter — threatening a new round of genocide and ethnic cleansing — Lula’s words serve as a forewarning to the horrors to come. As Evo Morales, Bolivia’s former president, wrote in solidarity with Lula on Monday: “To be declared persona non grata by a genocidal government that massacres children is a privilege that reaffirms commitment to life and peace before the international community and the people of the world.”