About Lula's statements on Gaza

This article was first published in French by Arguments pour La Lutte Sociale (Arguments for Social Struggle), here. This translation is abridged and lightly edited.

At the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Brazilian President Lula said: “What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has not happened at any other time in history. In fact, it has already happened: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

It’s important for left-wing activists who want to re-establish a genuine internationalism based on truth and not supporting any geopolitical camp, to give some arguments situating and refuting Lula’s words, and indicating what is really going on with the crimes committed in Gaza. This is important, firstly because Lula was a great figure in the Latin American and international workers’ movement, and secondly because his words will undoubtedly be broadcast and repeated everywhere, and should enable us to awaken critical minds.

To situate Lula’s remarks, we must first recall that they were made in Addis Ababa, in the presence of the inviting power: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner, responsible for the war in Tigray (2020-2022), which, according to the African Union, claimed 600,000 lives, and more according to other sources. Along with the invasion of Ukraine, this was the deadliest conflict caused by national oppression in the last three years. Ethiopia has now become a new member of the enlarged BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa bloc), with its people and land given over to the unbridled exploitation of firms that are often Indian, Saudi or Chinese.

To put Lula’s words in context, we must then compare them with his statements made on the same day in the same place calling for “restraint” and “moderation” over the death of Russian dissident Navalny — denouncing anyone who, like millions of Russians and opponents of tyranny around the world, dared to link this death to the actions of President Putin. Indeed, Lula never spoke of a genocidal risk in connection with Putin’s calls to put an end to Ukraine and Ukrainians, and the barbaric acts of Russian forces in Ukraine.

This puts Lula’s words in context, and should make anyone who wants to sincerely and effectively defend the human, democratic and national rights of the Palestinian people wary of him.

What can the ongoing destruction of Gaza by the Israeli army really be compared to? Not to the Shoah [Holocaust], but to the destruction of Mariupol by the Russian army in 2022. With the uncertainties that exist on this subject, the death toll is similar, and potentially higher in Gaza due to its larger population. In Mariupol, Russification followed the destruction. In Gaza, it’s likely to be an exodus, a second Nakba.

The methods are similar in both cases. One difference is that in Mariupol, Ukrainian troops did not prevent civilians accessing the few existing underground shelters, whereas in Gaza, Hamas has granted itself a monopoly on the much larger underground shelters.

It is a terrible political and moral condemnation of the Israeli government and state to make known this similarity between Marioupol and Gaza. To speak of the Shoah introduces a confusion by setting up “Israel” as a culprit comparable to the Nazis, an amalgam that directly feeds contemporary antisemitism.

Why this amalgam on the part of Lula? For the same reasons as his silence on the massacres in Tigray and his complicity with Putin. Lula has no intention of defending the Palestinians. He is defending a world system of multipolar imperialism, which carries war “like the cloud carries the storm” (Jean Jaurès). Internationalists aspiring to human emancipation must fight this system and the totality of imperialist powers, and stand with Ukrainians, Palestinians, Tigrayans, Jews facing antisemitism and all the oppressed.