Skip to main content

'It's a genocide': Brazil's Lula compares war on Gaza to Holocaust, sparking controversy

While Israel has summoned its ambassador and shot back severe criticism, Hamas has thanked the leader, who plans to increase Brazil's Unrwa contribution
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaking during the opening ceremony of the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa on 17 February (AFP/Brazilian Presidency)

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva compared Israel's killing of Palestinians in Gaza to the Nazi genocide against Jews during World War Two, sparking Israeli backlash. 

"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," Lula said on Sunday during the 37th African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. 

The Israeli foreign ministry said it would summon the Brazilian ambassador over the remarks, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labelled as "disgraceful and grave". 

"This is a trivialisation of the Holocaust and an attempt to attack the Jewish people and the right of Israel to self-defence. Drawing comparisons between Israel and the Nazis and Hitler is to cross a red line," Netanyahu said.

Meanwhile, the Hamas movement has said it "values" the Brazilian president’s remarks, calling them an "accurate description" of what Palestinians are enduring with the support of the United States.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"We call on the International Court of Justice to take into consideration the Brazilian president’s statement about what our Palestinian people are going though at the hand of the criminal occupation army," the group said, stressing that Palestinians are being subjected to unprecedented atrocities in modern history.

Lula told reporters in Addis Ababa, where he was attending an African Union summit, that what was happening in the Gaza Strip "isn't a war, it's a genocide".

'It's not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It's a war between a highly prepared army and women and children'

- Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian President

"It's not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It's a war between a highly prepared army and women and children," added the veteran leftist.

Lula, a prominent voice for the global south whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the G20, previously condemned Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel as a "terrorist" act.

But he has since grown vocally critical of Israel's retaliatory military campaign.

Lula to increase Unrwa contribution

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant meanwhile called Lula's comments "outrageous and abhorrent". "Brazil has stood with Israel for years," he wrote on X. 

"President Lula supports a genocidal terrorist organisation -- Hamas, and in doing so brings great shame to his people, and violates the values of the free world," he continued.

Israel's assault on Gaza has killed at least 28,858 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Lula criticised Western countries' recent decisions to halt aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, after Israel accused 12 of its employees of involvement in the 7 October attack.

Lula, who met with Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh Saturday on the sidelines of the summit, has said Brazil will increase its own contribution to the agency, and urged other countries to do the same.

"When I see the rich world announce that it's halting its contributions to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, I just imagine how big these people's political awareness is and how big the spirit of solidarity in their hearts is," Lula said.

"We need to stop being small when we need to be big."

He reiterated his call for a two-state solution to the conflict, with Palestine "definitively recognised as a full and sovereign state."

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.