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‘We hope the regime lasts’: When Israel enjoyed cozy ties with Brazil’s military dictatorship

Archival documents show how Israel helped prop up the Brazilian junta, supplied it with weapons and military expertise, and even signed a number of nuclear agreements.

By Eitay Mack

Brazilian police arrest a student protesting the military dictatorship, June 20, 1968. (Brazilian National Archives)

Brazilian police arrest students during a protest against the military dictatorship, June 20, 1968. (Brazilian National Archives)

Just under a month ago, following an especially tumultuous election season, Brazilians elected Jair Bolsonaro as president of their country.

Bolsonaro has been a member of the National Congress, Brazil’s parliament, since 1990, where he was part of a group of vocal, extreme-right back-benchers who longed for the days of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985.

His election was welcomed by the Israeli right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going so far as to announce he would attend Bolsonaro’s swearing-in ceremony in January.

A haphazard transition

Those who long for the era of the dictatorship ignore the fact that Brazilian security forces made hundreds disappear and arrested and tortured thousands of its own citizens.

Brazil served as a model for other murderous regimes, and the military dictatorship intervened in other countries in South America and supported their dictatorships.

It backed Pinochet’s coup and the suppression of dissent in Chile, aided the military coup in Bolivia, helped Uruguay put down internal revolts, and helped coordinate Operation Condor, in which the dictatorships of the Southern Cone worked in concert to eradicate left-wing activists and guerrillas.

Brazil is likely the only country in Latin America that did not undergo a process of self-examination following the dark years of dictatorship.

A law passed in 1979 granted immunity to officers responsible for the junta’s crimes. (The same process in Lebanon after ending the civil war and allowing the militia “leaders” to rule till now)

And while a National Truth Commission was established decades later, in 2011, as opposed to other similar commissions, it did very little investigating. In fact, the commission mostly summarized reports by human rights organizations, testimonies of victims of the dictatorship, and CIA documents handed over by the Obama administration.

Brazil’s power structures, its society, and its economy have changed very little since the transition to democracy.

Part of the blame surely lies with the left-wing and centrist parties that have ruled the country for the past 33 years, and which feared confrontation with the military establishment.

The left’s failure in the most recent elections only added insult to injury: the Worker’s Party, which ruled Brazil since 2003, permitted Luiz Inácio Lula De Silva to run for president from his prison cell, where he was serving time for corruption.

The party changed its candidate at the last minute, replacing De Silva with economist Fernando Haddad. It wasn’t enough to defeat Bolsonaro.

President Obama welcomes the President of Brazil, Lula Da Silva, to the Oval Office of the White House on Saturday, March 14, 2009. (Pete Souza/White House)

President Obama welcomes the President of Brazil, Lula Da Silva, to the Oval Office of the White House on Saturday, March 14, 2009. (Pete Souza/White House)

The lack of public discussion about the dictatorship and the little information available to the public about that period created a lacuna in the collective memory.

Thus, it is no surprise that Bolsonaro supports torture and annulling Brazil’s democracy, along with attacking women’s rights, the LGBTQ community, left-wing parties, and workers.

And yet, to millions of voters, Bolsonaro is not a threat. He is a politician with his feet planted firmly on solid ground—someone who can rescue Brazil from its crises. (Backed by the apartheid Silent Majority)

Dictatorship with a parliamentary veneer

Israeli Foreign Ministry documents at the Israel State Archives reveal that the Jewish state, like many others, were rather disinterested in Brazil’s human rights record during the dictatorship. Israeli diplomats in Brazil focused on hasbara efforts and promoting Israeli culture, and held repeated talks about moving the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.

Following the military coup on April 1, 1964, the Israeli embassy put together a document that said the coup “was swiftly planned and implemented, and led, for 24 hours, not only to the fall of Goulart (the president at the time), but also to the suppression of all leftist elements […] Brazil is today in a transitional state that can be defined as a military dictatorship with a parliamentary veneer.”

On June 16, 1965, Aryeh Eshel, director of Latin American affairs at the Foreign Ministry, wrote that he hopes “the current regime in Brazil lasts.”

A cable sent by the Israeli embassy on September 26, 1966 on anti-dictatorship student protests reported that “the slogans are always political and against the regime. There is hardly a doubt that leftist elements are exploiting the bitterness that exists among the students.”

In another telegram sent on December 15, 1966, the embassy wrote that “no one cares what happens to ‘democracy’ in Brazil.”

A few months later, a telegram sent to Jerusalem complained about the difficulty of promoting Israeli propaganda, since “there is no possibility to use student groups in our favor, since these organizations were disbanded due to their leftism. The same goes for workers’ organizations, which in effect no longer exist.”

Brazilian students march against the military dictatorship, September 9, 1966. (Brazilian National Archives)

Brazilian students march against the military dictatorship, September 9, 1966. (Brazilian National Archives)

Following the 1967 war, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol came up with and examined a plan to foment the “emigration of Arab residents (Palestinians) from the disputed territories to Brazil.”

After talks with the Israeli embassy in Brazil, Eshkol wrote on August 8, 1967: “These talks give me reason to believe that with intensive efforts, thousands, if not tens of thousands of Arab families, especially from the Gaza Strip, could emigrate to Brazil.”

Since the Israeli Defense Ministry refuses to release documents regarding Israel’s defense exports, and Brazil has not conducted a serious public investigation into the matter, very little information has been revealed regarding the security ties between the two countries at the time.

The little information that has been exposed points to strong ties: Brazil’s security forces used Israeli Uzi submachine guns, and the National Truth Commission revealed that intelligence agents from the National Intelligence Service of Brazil (SNI)  — who were primarily responsible for torture, oppression, and crimes committed by the regime — received training in Israel.

Looking away from anti-Semitism

According to the documents, the two countries exchanged military attachés.

In 1973, Israel used the São Paulo Air Show to present its Gabriel missiles, electronic devices, and more.

The documents also indicate that the two sides negotiated the sale of Israeli military products to Brazil, among them ships, helicopters, armaments, communications equipment, electronics, Shafrir and Gabriel missiles, aircraft engine repairs, radar systems, electronic fences, military training, and an delegation of military advisers.

Less known is the fact that the two countries entered into a nuclear pact for peaceful purposes. Israeli nuclear scientists went to work in Brazil, and even Shalhevet Freier, head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, paid a visit to the country in the early 1970s.

The first nuclear agreement between Israel and Brazil went into effect on August 10, 1964, just four months after the military coup. Complementary agreements were signed in 1966, 1967, and 1974.

Israeli President Zalman Shazar lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Brazil during a visit to the country two years after a military coup brought a junta into power, 1966. (GPO)

Israeli President Zalman Shazar lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Brazil during a visit to the country two years after a military coup brought a junta into power, 1966. (GPO)

A document dated to December 19, 1975, authored by Gideon Tadmor, deputy director of the Center for International Cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, attests to the decline in nuclear cooperation between the two countries, in part because of the desire of the Brazilian regime to play down its relations with Israel.

According to the document, Brazil expressed “disappointment with the kind of assistance we proposed, which was not exactly what they were looking for.”

Despite the cooperation between the two countries, in June 1981 Brazil claimed that Israel had leaked intelligence on a Brazilian deal to sell uranium and nuclear equipment to Iraq. The Israeli Foreign Ministry believed the Mossad was behind the leak.

Similar to Israel’s relationships with Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, and Argentina, its ties with Brazil were not shaken by allegations of anti-Semitism, nor by the fact that Nazis who fled Europe following World War II were living in the country.

In 1967, Brazil appointed Miera Pena to serve as the Brazilian ambassador to Israel, despite the fact that both Israel’s foreign and defense ministries suspected he was a Nazi.

In December 1973, Israel’s Foreign Ministry was alerted to the fact that Brazilian police were tapping diplomats’ phone calls and having them followed in order to locate remittances from Brazil.

In November 1975, the Foreign Ministry received a tip on the possibility that security forces in Sao Paolo were planning to carry out some kind of action against the Jewish community to prove a lack of loyalty among Brazil’s Jews.

In its attempt to court Brazil, Israel tried to brand itself as a crucial partner in the struggle against global terrorism, among other reasons, to convince the Brazilians that the PLO was a terrorist organization that must not win formal recognition.

To do so, the Israeli Foreign Ministry passed on “intelligence” to officials in Brasília. For example, Israeli diplomats sought to spread rumors that refugees from Angola were training to infiltrate Brazil and carry out subversive acts, and that the PLO was training and giving support to guerrilla groups across South America (in truth, only a few Argentinian guerrilla groups trained with the PLO).

Israel’s Foreign Ministry even asked members of Kibbutz Bror Hayil, home to immigrants from Brazil, to share their experiences with the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on being on the “front line of the free world against waves of aggression supported by the communist world.”

But were communists actually at the gates? The persistent use of communism and global terrorism to justify the political and security ties between the countries was so cynical that already in 1966 the Foreign Ministry wrote that “according to our estimates, there is no organization that threatens the current regime” in Brazil. (Actually, the earlier Jewish immigrants were communists. That is why Stalin voted for the creation of Israel)

Foreign Minister Mario Gibson Barboza, the first Brazilian foreign minister under the military dictatorship, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir at her Jerusalem office, June 2, 1973. (Fritz Cohen/GPO) פגישת ראש הממשלה גולדה מאיר עם שר החוץ של ברזיל מריו גיבסון ברבוזה במשרד רה"מ בירושלים.

Foreign Minister Mario Gibson Barboza, the first Brazilian foreign minister under the military dictatorship, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir at her Jerusalem office, June 2, 1973. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)

Immediately following the military coup, Israel was comfortable with its strong ties with Brazil.

A decade later, however, the Foreign Ministry had a soberer view of things. In a telegram from May 28, 1975, Israel’s ambassador at the time noted that “Brazil’s goal in its ties with Middle Eastern countries is entirely pragmatic, and focuses on promoting necessary economic, trade, and financial interests as defined by the president… these interests necessitate cultivating ties with Arab countries, especially with oil-producing countries.”

When it came to security exports, the ambassador claimed that “influential circles in the top military brass are sympathetic to Israel and have, on many occasions, been interested in forging closer and more meaningful ties with the IDF and with our military industries…

Political considerations make it difficult and in some cases prevent transactions, and the sympathy of the military and the public is not enough to overcome political obstacles.” Therefore, he suggested that “we should concentrate on products whose Israeli identity can be disguised.”

Ties between the two countries began to deteriorate in March 1980, 16 years after the establishment of the dictatorship, when the military regime recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and an essential partner in the negotiations to determine the future of Palestine.

That line was reiterated by the Brazilian foreign minister during a meeting with then-Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir in September 1981.

Cut from the same cloth

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolansaro. (Beto Oliveira/CC BY 3.0)

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolansaro. (Beto Oliveira/CC BY 3.0)

Netanyahu was quick to congratulate Bolsonaro on his election victory, telling him in a phone conversation that “I am sure that your choice will lead to great friendship between the two peoples and to closer ties between the two countries.”

Bolsonaro, who won much of the Evangelical vote in his country, said he would move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem, while Netanyahu said he would attend the president-elect’s inauguration ceremony.

Netanyahu and Bolsonaro, both of them anachronistic leaders, regularly resort to a “politics of fear.”

The former does so when it comes to Iran or “Arabs turning out in droves to the polling stations.”

Bolsonaro uses the crisis in Venezuela, the LGBTQ community, and whatever communists are still around as scapegoats.

Both delegitimise human rights organizations and left-wing parties and their incitement may end up costing lives. Bolsonaro refuses to believe that the Cold War ended and that there is no fear that communists will take over Brazil and the world.

Netanyahu refuses to believe that the 1948 war ended and that Israel’s existential, political, and security situation in 2018 has changed dramatically.

Eitay Mack is an Israeli human rights lawyer working to stop Israeli military aid to regimes that commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Related stories

Brazil fascist Jair Bolsonaro wants to bulldoze the Amazon and assassinate the left leaning citizens

Jair Bolsonaro is a former army officer and participated in the previous Brazil dictatorship. I saw him talking and he doesn’t sound right in the mind. No wonder why Trump and Israel Netanyahu love him.

And just months ago, almost nobody wanted to vote for him. How could this happen? A landslide of 58%?

By Ricken Patel – Avaaz 

The fascist Jair Bolsonaro wants to bulldoze the Amazon: He is is now Brazil’s President —

has threatened to kill 30,000 “leftists”, and praises dictatorships.

Rich companies illegally spent millions to flood WhatsApp with fake news supporting him. We can make sure this never happens again by coming together to demand Zuckerberg clean up social media before any more of these kinds of terrifying politicians gain power

Social media algorithms have vast power over our societies, and they’re force-feeding us poison right now.

In Brazil, it was only after millions of people had already been conned by fake news that journalists started to notice! But there is a way out: convince WhatsApp to introduce fake-news filters that can be activated by users that alert them to potential disinformation.

For this to work the platform may need to allow users to make encryption optional, a solution that would both protect our democracy and our privacy.

The amount of fake news currently spreading on all of our social networks is creating a vast and staggering global crisis. 

Facebook continues to have hundreds of millions of active fake accounts! YouTube has 2 billion (!) account-holders watching up to an hour a day, but researchers say its algorithms are driving people to watch extremist, racist, and malicious content.

That’s why our movement is fighting back — urging social media platforms, including WhatsApp, to stand up for citizens, democracies, and real information.

Note: Bolsonaro said he doesn’t see what is the fuss of moving Brazil embassy to Jerusalem: It is like deciding to move Brazil capital to Sao Paulo. He said that he is reconsidering his decision. Meanwhile, his 2 sons are exhibiting T-shirts for Israel Mossad and racism.

Election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil threatens the planet (The Guardian)
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/30/election-of-jair-bolsonaro-in-brazil-threatens-the-planet

The real reason Dilma Rousseff’s enemies want her impeached

The story of Brazil’s political crisis, and the rapidly changing global perception of it, begins with its national media.

The country’s dominant broadcast and print outlets are owned by a tiny handful of Brazil’s richest families, and are steadfastly conservative. (Like in most countries?)

For decades, those media outlets have been used to agitate for the Brazilian rich, ensuring that severe wealth inequality (and the political inequality that results) remains firmly in place.

Indeed, most of today’s largest media outlets – that appear respectable to outsiders – supported the 1964 military coup that ushered in two decades of rightwing dictatorship and further enriched the nation’s oligarchs.

This key historical event still casts a shadow over the country’s identity and politics. Those corporations – led by the multiple media arms of the Globo organisation – heralded that coup as a noble blow against a corrupt, democratically elected liberal government. Sound familiar?

Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff: a target of the rich and powerful. Photograph: Fernando Bizerra Jr/EPA

For more than a year, those same media outlets have peddled a self-serving narrative: an angry citizenry, driven by fury over government corruption, rising against and demanding the overthrow of Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, and her Workers’ party (PT). The world saw endless images of huge crowds of protesters in the streets, always an inspiring sight.

But what most outside Brazil did Not see was that the country’s plutocratic media had spent months inciting those protests (while pretending merely to “cover” them). The protesters were not remotely representative of Brazil’s population. They were, instead, disproportionately white and wealthy: the very same people who have opposed the PT and its anti-poverty programmes for two decades.

Slowly, the outside world has begun to see past the pleasing, two-dimensional caricature manufactured by its domestic press, and to recognise who will be empowered once Rousseff is removed. It has now become clear that corruption is not the cause of the effort to oust Brazil’s twice-elected president; rather, corruption is merely the pretext. (Or the tip of the iceberg?)

Rousseff’s moderately leftwing party first gained the presidency in 2002, when her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won a resounding victory. Due largely to his popularity and charisma, and bolstered by Brazil’s booming economic growth under his presidency, the PT has won four straight presidential elections – including Rousseff’s 2010 election victory and then, just 18 months ago, her re-election with 54 million votes.

‘Flowers for democracy’ demonstration against the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff
Pinterest Women carrying flowers take part in a ‘flowers for democracy’ demonstration against the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Photograph: Eraldo Peres/AP

The country’s elite class and their media organs have failed, over and over, in their efforts to defeat the party at the ballot box.

But plutocrats are not known for gently accepting defeat, nor for playing by the rules. What they have been unable to achieve democratically, they are now attempting to achieve anti-democratically: by having a bizarre mix of politicians – evangelical extremists, far-right supporters of a return to military rule, non-ideological backroom operatives – simply remove her from office.

Indeed, those leading the campaign for her impeachment and who are in line to take over – most notably the house speaker Eduardo Cunha – are far more implicated in scandals of personal corruption than she is.

Cunha was caught last year with millions of dollars in bribes in secret Swiss bank accounts, after having falsely denied to Congress that he had any foreign bank accounts. Cunha also appears in the Panama Papers, working to stash his ill-gotten millions offshore to avoid detection and tax liability.

It is impossible to convincingly march behind a banner of “anti-corruption” and “democracy” when simultaneously working to install the country’s most corruption-tainted and widely disliked political figures.

Words cannot describe the surreality of watching the vote to send Rousseff’s impeachment to the Senate, during which one glaringly corrupt member of Congress after the next stood to address Cunha, proclaiming with a straight face that they were voting to remove Rousseff due to their anger over corruption.

As the Guardian reported: “Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixaba, who is accused of money laundering. ‘For the love of God, yes!’ declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.”

But these politicians have overplayed their hand. Not even Brazil’s Masters of the Universe can convince the world that Rousseff’s impeachment is really about combating corruption – their scheme would empower politicians whose own scandals would be career-ending in any healthy democracy.

Eduardo Cunha
Pinterest Eduardo Cunha was caught last year with millions of dollars in bribes in secret Swiss bank accounts. Photograph: Andressa Anholete/AFP/Getty Images

A New York Times article last week reported that “60% of the 594 members of Brazil’s Congress” – the ones voting to impeach Rousseff – “face serious charges like bribery, electoral fraud, illegal deforestation, kidnapping and homicide”. By contrast, said the article, Rousseff “is something of a rarity among Brazil’s major political figures: she has not been accused of stealing for herself”.

Last Sunday’s televised, raucous spectacle in the lower house received global attention because of some repellent (though revealing) remarks made by impeachment advocates. One of them, prominent rightwing congressman Jair Bolsonaro – widely expected to run for president and who a recent poll shows is the leading candidate among Brazil’s richest – said he was casting his vote in honour of a human-rights-abusing colonel in Brazil’s military dictatorship who was personally responsible for Rousseff’s torture. His son, Eduardo, proudly cast his vote in honour of “the military men of ’64” – the ones who led the coup.

Until now, Brazilians have had their attention exclusively directed towards Rousseff, who is deeply unpopular due to the country’s severe recession. Nobody knows how Brazilians, especially the poor and working classes, will react when they see their newly installed president: the pro-business, corruption-tainted nonentity of a vice-president who, polls show, most Brazilians want impeached.

Most volatile of all, many – including the prosecutors and investigators who have led the corruption probe – fear that the real plan behind Rousseff’s impeachment is to put an end to the ongoing investigation, thus protecting corruption, not punishing it.

There is a real risk that once she is impeached, Brazil’s media will no longer be so focused on corruption, public interest will dissipate, and the newly empowered faction in Brasilia will be able to exploit its congressional majorities to cripple that investigation and protect themselves.

Ultimately, Brazil’s elite political and media classes are toying with the mechanics of democracy. That’s a dangerous, unpredictable game to play anywhere, but particularly so in a very young democracy with a recent history of political instability and tyranny, and where millions are furious over their economic deprivation.

Note: A razão real que os inimigos de Dilma Rousseff querem seu impeachment


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