Brazilian president compares Israel-Hamas war to Holocaust, Netanyahu says he crossed a line

Israel on Sunday condemned Brazil’s president for comparing the war in Gaza to the Holocaust, accusing him of being antisemitic and trivializing the Nazi genocide of European Jews during World War II.

The outcry further strained relations between the countries, which have deteriorated since President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva returned to office last year. Lula has portrayed himself as a leader of the “Global South,” a loosely defined group of developing countries.

Speaking to reporters at the African Union summit in Ethiopia, Lula said that “what is happening in the Gaza Strip and to the Palestinian people hasn’t been seen in any other moment in history. Actually, it did when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

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Such comments strike a raw nerve in Israel, a country established as a haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. Israel rejects any comparisons of its conduct in the war in Gaza to the Holocaust.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Lula’s comments “trivialized the Holocaust” and “crossed a red line.” He also accused Lula of being a “virulent anti-Semite.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that he had summoned Brazil’s ambassador in Israel for a reprimand. Katz called Lula’s comments “shameful and serious.”

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrives in Berlin, Germany, on Dec. 4, 2023. Israel condemned Brazil’s president for comparing the situation in Gaza to the Holocaust on Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Lula’s comments came after leaders at the AU summit on Saturday condemned Israel’s offensive in Gaza and called for its immediate end.

The war was triggered by an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants, who stormed into southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostage. Militants still hold around 130 hostages, a fourth of them believed to be dead. Most of the others were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November.

The war has killed at least 28,985 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Around 80% of Gaza’s population have been driven from their homes, and a quarter face starvation.

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The heavy death toll and widespread damage have led to mounting criticism of Israel and growing calls for a cease-fire.

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 U.N.’s International Court of Justice. His comment Sunday was the first time he directly compared Israel’s actions to the Holocaust.

In January, during a meeting with the Palestinian ambassador, Lula condemned Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, but said there was no justification for the indiscriminate killing of civilians and pushed for a cease-fire.

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