Brazilian President compares Israel’s offensive in Gaza to Holocaust, Netanyahu responds

Brazil, Lula da Silva, Israel Hamas war, Holocaust
Image Source : REUTERS/AP Brazil President Lula da Silva and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Addis Ababa: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday accused Israel of committing ‘genocide’ in Gaza, comparing its actions to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany during the time of World War II. Lula’s comments struck a raw nerve in Israel, a country established as a haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, where millions of Jewish people were killed under Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Speaking to reporters at the African Union summit in Ethiopia, Lula said, “What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has no parallel in other historical moments. In fact, it did exist when Hitler decided to kill the Jews”. His comments came after leaders at the summit condemned Israel’s offensive in Gaza and called for its immediate end.

The war was triggered by an October 7 attack by Hamas militants, who stormed into southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages, out of which around 130 are believed to be still held in Gaza. On the other hand, at least 28,985 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israel’s powerful retaliatory attack, triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Lula has previously said Israel is carrying out a genocide in Gaza and has supported South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide at the UN’s International Court of Justice. He earlier condemned Hamas’ attack on October 7 but said there was no justification for the indiscriminate killing of civilians and pushed for a ceasefire. The Brazilian president had also slammed the UN for failing to resolve international conflicts.

Israel’s terse response

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Lula’s remarks, accusing him of being anti-semitic and trivialising the Nazi genocide of European Jews during World War II. “By comparing Israel’s war in Gaza against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization, to the Holocaust, President da Silva has disgraced the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, and demonized the Jewish state like the most virulent anti-Semite. He should be ashamed of himself,” he said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X that he had summoned Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for a reprimand, calling Lula’s comments “shameful and serious”. The Brazilian Israelite Confederation said Lula’s remarks were a “perverse distortion of reality” and “offend the memory of Holocaust victims and their descendants” and accused his government of an “extreme and unbalanced” stance on the conflict.

Brazil’s presidential palace and the foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Sunday, Lula also condemned the suspension of humanitarian aid to the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), urging an investigation into errors without cutting off funding to help those affected by what he called a “genocide.”

Israel vows to “finish the job”

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu brushed off growing calls to halt the military offensive in Gaza, vowing to “finish the job” as a member of his War Cabinet threatened to invade the southern city of Rafah if remaining Israeli hostages are not freed by the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel’s government has not publicly discussed a timeline for a ground offensive on Rafah, where more than half the enclave’s 2.3 million Palestinians have sought refuge. Retired general Benny Gantz, part of Netanyahu’s three-member War Cabinet, represents an influential voice but not the final word on what might lie ahead. “If by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue to the Rafah area,” Gantz told a conference of Jewish American leaders.

As cease-fire negotiations struggle after signs of progress in recent weeks, Netanyahu has called demands by Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group “delusional”. The United States, Israel’s top ally, says it still hopes to broker a cease-fire and hostage-release agreement, and envisions a wider resolution of the war sparked by the October 7 attack in southern Israel.

The US also says it will veto another draft UN resolution calling for a cease-fire, with its UN ambassador warning against measures that could jeopardise “the opportunity for an enduring resolution of hostilities”. However, the US and Israel disagree on Palestinian statehood, which Washington believes is key to bringing peace in the conflict-ridden region and normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The international community overwhelmingly supports an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. Netanyahu’s government is filled with hard-liners who oppose Palestinian independence. Netanyahu wants Israel to achieve “total victory” over Hamas as concerns rise over a possible operation in Rafah, where most of the people are crammed in to escape the fighting.

Meanwhile, Israeli strikes across Gaza continued, killing at least 18 people overnight into Sunday, according to medics and witnesses.  A strike in Rafah killed six people, including a woman and three children, and another killed five in Khan Younis, the main target of the southern Gaza offensive in recent weeks.

(with inputs from agencies)

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