BDS-Brazil campaign was launched in São Paulo in September 2011 by a broad coalition of labor, people, student, women and religious organizations.[i]
By Soraya Misleh.
Nevertheless, the first BDS drive was carried out in 2006 around the campaign against Brazilian endorsement for the Free Trade Agreement between Israel and Mercosur (conformed by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay). Facing the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Brazilian authorities had to postpone its ratification to December 17, 2009.[ii]
This campaign was critical not only as the starting point of multiple efforts, but also due to its target: the economic and diplomatic relations between Brazil and Israel.
Cooperation With Israeli Arms Industry
Unfortunately, since the U.N. resolution for partition of Palestine in 1947 Brazilian diplomacy stands for the right of State of Israel to exist. From 1974 onwards Brazil stands publicly for the establishment of a Palestinian State on part of the historical Palestine territory. In March 2010, President Lula became the first Brazilian president ever to carry out an official visit to Israel.[iii]
On top of diplomatic support, Brazilian authorities strongly tightened the economic relationship with the Israeli arm industry in the last twenty years. Today 2% of all Israeli exports have Brazil as its destination[iv], turning it into one of the five largest importers of Israeli military technologies, and the door to Latin American markets,[v] critical to compensate losses in European markets where BDS campaigns are achieving its goals. Furthermore the number of Israeli companies in Brazil increased from 5 to 150 in 20 years[vi] including notorious Elbit Systems through subsidiaries AEL, Periscópio Equipamentos Optrônicos S/A and Ares Aeroespacial, which signed two millionaire contracts with the Brazilian army.
Economic deals were facilitated by several state policies: LAAD (Latin American Air and Defense Exposition), named “Fair of Death” by Brazilian activists, which took place in Rio de Janeiro every two years since 1997 and now became an annual event, with strong presence of Israeli companies. In 2003 Brazilian Defense Forces opened an office in Tel Aviv. In November 2010 an information security agreement was signed to legalize exclusivity on the deals for security and weapons.[vii]
MP Ivan Valente (PSOL-SP) made public an information request of the Ministry of Defense, which shows R$1 billion (around US$250 million) in contracts between Israeli companies and Brazilian Defense Forces.[viii]
Arms Embargo: BDS-Brazil Main Challenge
Arms embargo against Israel is critical for BDS activists in Brazil. Some steps to fight back this regrettable record of cooperation with the Israeli arm industry include:
- Campaign against the Free Trade Agreement Mercosur-Israel;
- Protests against the LAAD. After demonstration in and outside LAAD premises in 2013,[ix] the number of Israeli companies decreased from 30 to 9 in 2014, working through representatives and subsidiaries in order to divert attention from protesters;
- “Popular Tribunal: Israel on the Defendant’s Bench”, held in August 2014 in São Paulo, was a popular court charging Israel with serious crimes for its attacks on the Palestinian people and its role in contributing to state repression in Brazil. The court follows the people’s movement assembly organized at the World Social Forum Free Palestine in Porto Alegre by IJAN, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the Palestinian Youth Movement. Ten testimonies from members of important social movements, including Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), Committee Against Genocide of Black People, and Quilombo Race and Class (Black Caucuses); Students’ Federations (ANEL and UNE), Haiti Solidarity Committee, Metro Workers’ Union, Committee Against State Repression, and Palestinians living in Brazil. They exposed police brutality and repression against social movements carried out with Israeli technology like armored vehicles, surveillance devices, exchange programs between polices and others. The verdict was decided by labor federations (CSP-Conlutas, CUT and UNIDOS), World March of Women, MST (Landless Movement), League of Islamic Youth, Youth Ecumenical Network and the known Catholic Priest Julio Lancelotti. Judge Joao Batista Damasceno, from Judges for Democracy Association, presented the sentence: “To condemn the State of Israel and Israeli companies for the development of defense and security technologies through experiments against the Palestinian people, as well as for the export of these technologies throughout the world, including Brazil, spreading the means and methods of repression and extermination of human beings. To call on the various sectors of the Brazilian State to break all trade and military agreements as well as all diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, therefore taking a position consistent with the defense of human and national rights of both the Brazilian and the Palestinian people”. [x] It was the first Popular Tribunal to address Israeli role in world repression and this experience was addressed in a talk held in the 2015 Edition of the World Social Forum, in Tunisia.
- Elbit contracts canceled. Elbit Systems suffered two important setbacks. A deal to create a Special Economic Zone for Israeli arms industries in Rio Grande do Sul with public funding and free technological research provided by four regional universities was canceled in December 2014.[xi] In January 7, 2016 EMBRAER, a giant Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, called off Harpia Sistemas, a joint venture with AEL (an Elbit subsidiary).[xii]
- “Olympics Without Apartheid” campaign targeted Israeli ISDS (International Security and Defense Systems), an infamous security company known for human rights violations in Latin America, which was hired by the International Olympic Committee in Rio de Janeiro.
Academic and Cultural Boycott
Academic Boycott is critical as many universities and state bodies hold cooperation agreements with Israeli State and its universities. The main one, signed by the Ministry of Education of both countries, predicts a broad range of cooperation, including to encourage and facilitate tighter relations between their respective educational and professional institutions.[xiii]
Universities have their own agreements. University of São Paulo, the largest one in Brazil, has more than thirty agreements with Israeli universities. Recently, a numerous group of professors and scholars stood for Academic Boycott.[xiv]
Nevertheless it was the call for MP Jean Wyllys (PSOL-RJ) not to give a lecture in Hebrew University in East Jerusalem which got a broader audience. Member of a left-wing party which supports BDS, MP Jean Wyllys is the most known MP who stands for LGBT rights. His controversial decision to accept the invitation to give a lecture on racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism was followed by hundreds of letters and messages opposing it. Back to Brazil, he praised Israeli democracy and denounced homophobia among Arabs. His visit was instrumental to address both pink-washing and the role of “left-wing” Zionism.
The Cultural Boycott played an important role in making BDS popular. In 2014, the majority of artists participating in Bienal Internacional de Arte de São Paulo, the main plastic-arts event in Brazil, demanded from the curators the withdrawal of all Israeli funding. Mainstream media covered the conflict, which forced the annulment of all Israeli institutions’ sponsorship.[xv]
BDS activists in Brazil have always called Brazilian artists not to sing in Israel. Roberto Carlos and Daniela Mercury were two of them. Nevertheless, the most successful drive was around two mainstream singers, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Under the motto “Tropicalia não rima com Apartheid” (Tropicalia musical style does not match Apartheid), both singers faced the presence of protesters with Palestinian flags in many of their shows in Brazil and Europe. Back to Brazil, Caetano Veloso published a long article in mainstream Folha de São Paulo recognizing the existence of discrimination against Palestinian that he by himself witnessed in Susiya, and even in disagreement with BDS campaign he stated that he will never go back to Israel again.[xvi]
Diplomacy and Water
Briefly, it is also important to mention four events:
- Contract rescission between Mekorot and state-owned water companies of São Paulo and Bahia;[xvii]
- Public statement of Brazilian diplomacy criticizing Israeli authorities for not allowing the entrance in occupied Palestine of 2 of 16 members of a Brazilian humanitarian delegation to Gaza in 2015;[xviii]
- Public statement of Brazilian diplomacy for immediate release of Brazilian-Palestinian prisoner Islam Hamed and guaranee of a safe-conduct to allow him to come back to Brazil;
- Brazilian non-agreement for the settler Dani Dayan to become Israeli ambassador in Brazil after a manifesto signed by Brazilian social movements making this request.[xix]
BDS campaign certainly has positive perspectives in Brazil. Side by side with the struggle of Palestinian people for liberation both in and outside Palestine, the campaign is exposing Israeli apartheid to a broader audience.
In Brazil, there are strategic allies: the labor federations and social movements in general, which can play a role in winning hearts and minds to solidarity with Palestine.
Another important development is the recent wave of Palestinian and Syrian refugees currently coming to Brazil. Their presence in actions in solidarity with Palestine have been critical and an interesting bond between them and homeless movement was built in São Paulo.
Finally, the importance of acting in Latin America as a sub-continent was recognized by Palestinian BDS Committee through the appointment of a representative for the continent.
Translation: Fabio Bosco.