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Brazil’s place in the South African lawsuit against Israel 

An old adage says that “You shouldn’t joke or play with the suffering of others”. An equally ancient recommendation states that “For every complex problem, there is a simple and always mistaken solution”. A transcendent teaching states that “patience is the sister of prudence”. And the wizard of Russian letters, Liev Tolstoy immortalized the maxim that “all happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

What followed the unfortunate event of October 7, 2023 mobilizes all levels of these considerations, and any position taken without them as a guide could lead to recklessness.

Hamas’ onslaught on unprotected and unarmed civilians on that Israeli “September 11” was an action without a name and there is no excuse for it. It has always been very difficult to forgive the unforgivable. And that action was unforgivable. But the unforgivable was not without reason. On the contrary: it was an action, however odious it may have been, the product of the accumulation of resentment and hatred between believers, from one side and from a common family, in dispute over the same ground.

A historical conflict

From a perspective of the very long term, these skirmishes between Jews and Arabs date back to biblical moments in Genesis. But it was during the 19th century, under the Ottoman Empire, around 1870, that the Zionist issue that to this day eats away at the patience and prudence of these Middle Easterners reached new contours. Sephardic Jews, at this point in the 19th century, consciously began to value the Hebrew language as an input for reinvigorating Jewish nationalism. And it worked. The years that followed saw an increase in the demands for affirmation, differentiation, and territorialization of the Jewish people. And, finally, came the Shoah to promote the worldwide commotion that served as the basis for the justification of the State of Israel.

In 1948, concomitant with the creation of the State of Israel came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 

The Nazis’ Final Solution extended the materialization of insanities inaugurated in the ethnic cleansing practiced against Armenians and continued in the mass exterminations perpetrated by communist states throughout the time of extremes between 1914 and 1945. These actions went too far. It was therefore necessary to improve the punishment of these incontestable crimes.

In 1929, the Geneva Convention aimed to protect prisoners of war. But World War II posed even greater challenges that were defined in the punishment of 1. crimes against peace; 2. war crimes, and 3. crimes against humanity. All of these crimes were committed against the Jews, too. Hence, the push for the creation of a State of Israel. But the situation has always been more complex.

The Arabs, in all their variations, claim the same cause, the same punishments, and the same territory. For all these reasons, after 1948, tension between Jews and Arabs has increased. And the incidents of 1956, 1967, and 1973 were just examples of their eternal disagreements.

The Oslo Accords of 1993 held out the possibility of a “tolerable peace”. But the assassination of Prime Minister Isaac Rabin two years later put an end to all hope. Since then, the conflict has been unresolved and unending.

The role of the West

What we saw on October 7 and afterward, cruel as it may seem, was the continuation of this plot. But this time with more irritating overtones. First because of the revision of the West’s role in the world. Then by the perfect storm caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the new phase of Russian-Ukrainian tension. And finally, the violence of the Israeli counter-offensive against the Arabs in the aftermath.

Thus, in the first moments after October 7, the Western countries that had always supported the existence of the State of Israel ostentatiously condemned Hamas’ actions, followed by the other Arab countries. Less Western and even anti-Western countries throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia initially hesitated and some ignored the situation.

Back in time, the aftermath of September 11, 2001, greatly complicated everyone’s relationship, Western or not, with the Arab world. President George W. Bush’s War on Terror created complexities that were difficult to overcome. Almost suddenly, everywhere, being Arab became synonymous with being a terrorist. President Barack H. Obama tried to remedy this disastrous impression, but he has not succeeded. The relationship, especially between Westerners — including Israelis — and Arabs, has only worsened.

If that was not enough, 2009 coincided with the moment when the 2008 global financial crisis was overcome and, concomitantly, with the affirmation of the emerging countries anchored in the BRICS. These countries, acting as a bloc, went from being a discussion forum to a revisionist platform for the international system that emerged in 1945. This intention to revise accelerated the change in the consensus on the international environment — especially the consensus manufactured by Europeans and Americans — and, with it, the consensus on the State of Israel and Israeli-Palestinian relations.

International revisionism

It was against this new backdrop that Israel resorted to its “right of self-defense” and launched an unrelenting counter-offensive against Hamas and the Arab world in Gaza. Since then, under the pretext of protecting the survival of the Jewish people, Israeli forces have murdered more than 23,000 Arabs — most of them civilians and unarmed. Observing the seriousness of the situation, the South Africans identified this killing as an “intention of genocide” and filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice against the State of Israel, surprising the whole world with their inversion of values. It should be noted that such a complaint would have been unthinkable before the emergence of revisionist countries on the international scene. Therefore, in this scenario of values being revised, the complaint has been filed and accepted by the Court. New times.

As a guarantor of this revision of international precepts and values, the Brazilian State, under the presidency of Lula da Silva, expressed solidarity with the Arabs and support for South Africa’s initiative on January 10, 2024, after a meeting with the Palestinian ambassador in Brasília. In the diplomatic field, this decision simply stems from the changing perspectives of the revisionist countries in the international system and the prominence of Brazil within these countries. In the legal field, this support served to put pressure on the International Court of Justice to accept South Africa’s complaint. In the political field, Brazil took sides in a situation that was not necessarily political, legal, or diplomatic. It may have taken a gamble on establishing its place in history.

Did Brazil lack patience and prudence in this gamble? Time will tell.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Portuguese.


Doctor en Historia Social por la Universidad de San Pablo (Brasil) Postdoctorado en Relaciones Internacionales en Sciences Po (París).


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