On Oct. 30, Luis Inacio Da Silva, worldwide known by the nickname Lula, won the runoff in Brazil presidential election against the current President Jair Bolsonaro. The difference in votes between the candidates was less than 2%, showing that the largest country in South America is politically divided and polarized. Lula will have to deal with a very conservative Congress. On Oct. 2, in addition to the first round of the presidential election, Brazilians renewed all the members of the Chamber of Deputies and one-third of the senators’ seats. In the Chamber of Deputies, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party won, retaining first place with 99 seats. In the Senate, he won 14 seats, compared to eight for Lula’s Workers’ Party. Citizens also voted to renew the governors and assemblies of the 27 states of the federation. Here again, Bolsonaro made gains.
During the campaign, Lula appealed to Brazilians to elect him to help “rebuild and transform” the country after four years under Bolsonaro. He pledged to support those living in poverty and make Brazilians “eat decently every day,” reinstate environmental protection policies, especially in the Amazon, which has been under severe controversy over the last four years due to deforestation and its environmental consequences.
Lula received immediate formal congratulations from the United States government and European democracies, and from all Latin America countries, including great celebrations from the three dictatorships: Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. He also received a very warm congratulation from China. “I am willing to work with president-elect Lula to make joint plans from a strategic height and long-term perspective and take the China-Brazil comprehensive strategic partnership to a new level,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said.
There is another celebration of Lula´s victory. A few months ago, in an exclusive interview with TV Brazil 247, Hamas International Committee member Basem Naim expressed the terrorist organization’s support for Lula as a presidential candidate.
Naim, who has also served as the Palestinian Authority’s minister of sports and minister of health, said Hamas appreciates Lula´s support for the Palestinian cause. “It started years ago and during Lula’s presidency, he was a great and vigorous support for our cause. We look forward to the days when we will see Brazil again supporting Palestine and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity,” Naim said. In 2010, Lula da Silva recognized Palestine as a state, a month before he left the presidency. Lula also called Israel “genocidal” when Israel defended itself from Hamas terrorism. Today, Hamas celebrates Lula´s victory.
In March 2010, Lula visited Israel. The year was the 150th anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s birth, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry added a visit to his grave to the protocol for visiting foreign dignitaries. The Brazilian president refused to do so. Israel’s foreign minister at the time, Avigdor Liberman, refused to meet with Lula due to the unexpected and outrageous breach of protocol. After visiting Israel, Lula went to Ramallah, put a keffiyeh on his shoulders and laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat. Late that year, and before the end of his presidency, Lula recognized the statehood of the Palestinians. In 12 years, there has been no changes in Lula´s thoughts and behavior on the Palestinians and Israel. Four months ago, Lula went to an event in Brazil and again wore a keffiyeh and said: “Palestinians deserve our full attention and solidarity.”
Lula had close ties with Iran during his two terms, hosting anti-Semitic Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visiting Tehran. He opposed sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program. When an Iranian woman was sentenced to execution by stoning for committing adultery, Lula said something that even few Iranian allies would dare to say. But Lula had no shame to publicly say: “I need to respect the laws of a foreign country. If my friendship with the president of Iran and the respect that I have for him is worth something, if this woman has become a nuisance, we will receive her in Brazil.”
Lula’s successor was Dilma Rousseff, who had been his chief of staff. Rousseff continued the hostility against Israel. She recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel to protest Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and at that time Lula again accused Israel of being “genocidal.” Rousseff went further and rejected Israel’s choice of ambassador to Brazil, Dani Dayan, because he lived over the green line. Another outrageous demonstration of disrespect and animosity against Israel.
What is expected by observers now that Lula will become president for the third time? He will have to work very hard to accomplish his pledges inside the country. Half of the voters did not vote him; the vast majority of the Congress and the governors of the largest states will not accept populism as Lula practiced it when he was president more than a decade ago.
Brazil is one of the largest and more important economies of the world. In this post-pandemic era, Lula will have to learn that his friendship with Iran, his support to dictatorships and terrorist movements are not the steps that G8 may expect from Brazil today.
It seems that, according to his statements before the election, he will also have to learn that there is another map in the Middle East: the Abraham Accords and other close economic relationships between Israel and Arab countries. No observer is expecting that his government will change its votes against Israel in every U.N. agency and then will blame Israel of all evils in the Middle East. But if it happens as such, he will take Brazil to the dark side of Iranian policies again. He failed when he did so with Ahmadinejad and dragged many Latin American populist governments to that failure. Today, all political maps, including the Latin American one, have changed, some for the good, many for the bad. Which side will Lula choose this time? When he takes office next Jan. 1, 2023, the world will know.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B’nai B’rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.