Brazil and Israel: from friends to enemies?

By Tulio Konstantinovitch, a Brazilian second year student reading BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

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Brazil is a peaceful State and is well known for its respect for other nations. It is also one of the 11 countries in the world that has diplomatic relations with all members of the United Nations. Nevertheless, a controversial case in the last months, which attracted a lot of attention in the media and in the international community, showed that its practices sometimes are more aggressive. The decision of not recognising Dani Dayan as the new Israeli ambassador in Brazil, brought up discussions on the role of Brazil in the international community and confirmed the idea that, in diplomacy, it stands up for what it believes it is right. However, disagreements with Israel are not entirely new to the country.

Since 2014, a diplomatic conflict against Israel has been in place. The animosity originated when the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, published a note of repudiation regarding the “disproportionate use of force” by Israelis against Palestinians, “which resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children”. Also, Brazil announced a calling for ‘consultation’ of the Brazilian ambassador in Israel, Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto, taking him off charge for a certain period. In diplomatic language, the convening of an ambassador is considered an act of protest.

In this situation, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, affirmed that Brazil is an “irrelevant” diplomatic partner. He added, “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf”. The usage of the term “diplomatic dwarf” in reference to Brazil perpetuated in the world media, with some condemning Palmor and some agreeing with him.

Nowadays, another conflict has deepened diplomatic understanding between the two. With the indication of Dani Dayan as the ambassador of Israel in Brazil, a diplomatic crisis emerged. This is because Brazil is one the countries that supports a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and recognises Palestine as a State, position confirmed in 2010. Dayan, on the other hand, has been a supporter of Israeli settlements, being a political leader inside the lands that were conquered during the six-day war in 1967.

The Brazilian government criticised the way in which Israel announced the appointment of Dayan – in a post by Netanyahu on Twitter – even before Brasilia had been informed and had agreed to the nomination, injuring diplomatic rules. In fact, this goes against the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, in which Article 4 reads: “1.The sending State must make certain that the agreement of the receiving State has been given for the person it proposes to accredit as head of the mission to that State and 2.The receiving State is not obliged to give reasons to the sending State for a refusal of agreement.”

This does not mean, however, that Brazil does not support the state of Israel, as some could argue. Brazil played a significant role in the creation of the State of Israel. It was the Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha -by then president of the UN General Assembly- who in 1948 had the decisive vote, enabling and approving a nation of the Jews. The same resolution also sought the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Hence, historically, Brazil never believed in the necessity of war. It tried to show support for the two sides, speaking for reconciliation and the end of the conflict. Economically, whilst Palestine is irrelevant for Brazil regarding trade, Israel is one of Brazil’s leading partners. There is a significant bilateral trade of more than US$1 billion per year. Brazil imports from Israel critical components for the aviation industry and security and mainly exports food. An example of the former was the purchase of a security system from Israel for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which will take place in August 2016. Israel is the only country outside South America that Mercosur has a free trade agreement with, in force since 2010. In the same year, President Lula became the first Brazilian head of state to visit Israel.

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Concerning the Dayan crisis, the Brazilian government has quietly made a series of diplomatic initiatives trying to convince Israel to change her appointment but had no success. Accepting him, who denies the Palestinians sovereignty over any land, carries a problematic symbolism because it goes against the Brazilian diplomacy of promotion of peace and respect for international law, as well as contradicting the efforts of the international community to work towards peace, something previous Israeli governments tried to do.

The former Israeli ambassador in Brasilia was Reda Mansour, an Arabic-Israeli, who is fluent in Portuguese and had great respect for diplomacy between the two parties. So why replace a respected diplomat at a difficult moment in bilateral relations by such a controversial figure as Dayan? The answer concerns the priorities of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks for achieving international acceptance and legitimacy to the 1967 territories. It is noteworthy that he seeks this goal in a hard way, via Brazil, due to its political importance, instead of trying to assign Dayan as ambassador to a smaller country. On the other hand, Dayan argues that this could set a precedent that will prevent residents of settlements – politicians or not – to represent Israel abroad because they will be considered unrightful. The result of this diplomatic crisis is uncertain, but since there is a mutual dependence of the two countries and because Israel is not well seen in regard to its diplomacy, probably it will end up assigning a new ambassador, rather than Brazil conforming to Israel’s current nominee. This will, however, only be seen in the following months.

 

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