Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: Brazil crossed the line on Israel

While most of the world has condemned the violence in Gaza, in most cases blaming both sides with various degrees of criticism for one or the other, Brazil has crossed the line by virtually endorsing the Hamas terrorist group’s narrative of the conflict — and for going even beyond countries such as Egypt and Jordan in its actions against Israel.

In a July 23 comunique, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government stated that “we strongly condemn the disproportional use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in an elevated number of civilian victims.”

It added that Brazil was recalling its ambassador to Israel for consultations — something that not even Arab countries such as Egypt or Jordan have done at the time of this writing.

Brazil’s communique placed Brazil in the league with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries that automatically side with military dictatorships and human rights abusers across the world. Now, Brazil is reportedly seeking a statement against Israel at the July 29 South American Mercosur bloc meeting.

Many other countries have condemned the “disproportionate use of force” by Israel, but most — including Argentina, which normally echoes Brazil’s stands — have simultaneously condemned Hamas for its systematic rocket attacks against Israeli civilian targets, which Israel says started the latest round of violence.

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Furthermore, the United States and the 28-member European Union, which consider Hamas as a terrorist group, have specifically condemned Hamas use of civilians as human shields.

On July 17, the United Nations Agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, known by its acronym UNRWA, announced that it had discovered 20 Hamas rockets hidden in a U.N. school in Gaza. A few days later, UNRWA announced a similar finding at another U.N. school.

Following Brazil’s one-sided condemnation of Israel, Israel’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Brazil’s behavior “illustrates the reason why that economic and cultural giant remains politically irrelevant” on the world scene. Israeli officials said Israel’s unusually strong reaction was primarily triggered by Brazil’s decision to recall its ambassador.

By comparison, the United States and the 28-member European Union started their statements on the Gaza conflict stressing Israel’s right to defend itself.

The Council of the European Union, which includes France, Belgium and several other countries with huge Muslim populations, issued a statement on July 22 stating that “the European Union strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas.”

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It adds that “the EU strongly condemns (Hamas) calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields,” and that “while recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, the EU underlines that the Israeli military operation must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law.”

Brazil may have recalled its ambassador for domestic political reasons, and because it is courting radical Arab and African states in its quest to get a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas section of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group, says that former Brazilian President Luiz Innacio Lula da Silva — Rousseff’s political mentor — consistently sided with the world’s worst human rights violators during his years in office.

More recently, under Rousseff, Brazil has significantly improved its human rights voting record at the U.N. Human Rights Council, but not so in other diplomatic fora. In Latin America, for instance, Brazil has remained silent about the massive human rights violations committed by Venezuelan security forces, Vivanco says.

“Brazil is doing the right thing in strongly protesting against Israel for the disproportionate use of force that has generated huge numbers of civilian casualties, but at the same time it should not fail to condemn Hamas’ indiscriminate and constant rocket attacks against Israel’s civilian population,” Vivanco told me.

My opinion: Israel can be blamed for failing to prevent civilian deaths in specific cases during the Gaza conflict, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government can also be blamed for not doing enough to speed up the much-needed creation of a Palestinian state, but Israel cannot be blamed for defending itself.

No country in the world can be asked to sit idly by while a terrorist group fires thousands of rockets against its big cities, while using civilians as human shields. Much less when, unlike Al Fatah and more moderate Palestinian groups, Hamas calls for the annihilation of Israel, and teaches Palestinian children that killing Jews is a service to Allah.

If Brazil wants to be taken seriously as a modern democracy and a responsible world actor, it should act like one.

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