The case of Brazil: Israel’s experience of repression of the Palestinian people goes global
Maren Mantovani (Stop the Wall) and Henrique Sanchez (MOPAT - Movimento Palestina para Tod@s). Originally published in WRI's 'Broken Rifle' newsletter, April 2015.
In a globalized world, any analysis of militarization and repressive ideologies, methodologies and technologies has to take into account the dynamics of import and export of these concepts and tools across borders. One of the world’s most prominent exporters of ideology and technology of repression is undoubtedly Israel. With over sixty years of experience in repressing the Palestinian people and expelling them from their lands, Israel markets proudly its weapons for war and ‘riot control’ as ‘field tested’ - either during the repeated full-scale military aggressions against Palestinian territory or Arab countries or in the day-to-day subjugation of a people under occupation.
No surprise then that Israeli companies are among the key players in the biddings for the huge amounts of ‘security’ spending linked to so-called Mega Events, such as World Cups and Olympics. These events have turned one of the most effective means to open large markets for measures of control and repression as concerns about privacy, freedom of expression and other basic rights are set aside considering the ‘exceptionality’ of the events. Unfortunately, once these repressive mechanisms are in place, they are there to stay.
Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games is exemplary in this sense: it has given Israeli military and security companies an enormous space for penetration into Brazil’s military, police and public institutions, with lasting negative impacts on the Palestinian as well as Brazilian people. This ‘security’ cooperation adds to the multi billion business between Brazil and the Israeli military that has been developing over the last decade and, in clear contradiction with its diplomatic rhetoric of support for Palestinian rights, has turned Brazil into the world’s fifth biggest importer of Israeli weapons.
This has created rising opposition within Brazil’s social movements and the National Network of Popular Committees of the World Cup, created to defend the people against human rights violations linked to the World Cup, not only denounced the negative impact of military cooperation with Israel on the Brazilian population but even considered the Palestinian people as one of the people directly affected by the 2014 Games in Brazil because of the enormous cash flow that the ‘security’ spending procured to sustain the Israeli military industry. The Olympic Games are repeating a similar scenario: the most exemplary case is the local Olympics Committee’s decision to contract the Israeli company International Security & Defence Systems (ISDS) to coordinate the entire security operation of the Games (with a total expenditure of 2.2 billion dollars), including the training of Brazilian police officers and the provision of equipment. Additionally, ISDS will receive advertising space worth 20 million. ISDS has already held various contracts for ‘security’, including Athens (2004), South Africa (2010) and the Panamerican Games (2007). However, this time civil society has launched a campaign to ‘Stop that Shameful Contract’1.
ISDS’s founder and CEO Leo Gleser has a long history of working with the Israeli military and intelligence. His company is built on this experience with the repression and massacre of the Palestinian people, which he has turned against the people across Latin America. According to existing documentation, since its foundation in 1982 the company has been involved with dictatorships and coups in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and the training of the "Contras" in Nicaragua. In Guatemala, it openly offered classes of "selective terror" at the time of the genocide. In Honduras, it trained the military personnel during the dictatorship in the 80's and provided the weapons that were used in the attack on the Brazilian embassy where President Zelaya was finding refuge after his overthrow in 2009. The company is a key part of the system of Israeli military intervention as explained by Israeli journalist Yossi Melman: "The Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry or the Mossad gets a request to provide security advice or to train army or security service forces for the ruler of a country, usually a tyrant. Because the authorities cannot, or do not want, to assist the ruler directly, although they view his request as important in order to promote security or political interests - they ask a private company to provide the service being requested."2
Unfortunately, this shameful contract is only the culmination of the penetration of the Israeli military and homeland security complex in Brazil.
In November 2009, a month after Brazil had been selected to host the World Cup and the Olympics, former Israeli President Shimon Peres lead a delegation of Israeli businessmen and assured Brazil that “in all that you want, we are ready to help in any way in our power"3. Three months later, the Israeli government organized a seminar on public safety exclusively for the 8 Brazilian states authorities chosen to host the World Cup4. The workshop discussed Israeli experiences and proposals on security in mega events, anti-terror actions and introduced the concept of "safe city", based on the Israeli surveillance of all telephone calls and web connections in Gaza. Coincidentally, it was during the event that Brazilian politicians began to publicly defend the passing of anti-terrorism legislation that could legally support actions of repression during the mega events.
Later that year, the 1st International Conference on Public Security, held in Tel Aviv5, was attended by about 90 Brazilian authorities, security managers and businesspersons, including Hilary Medeiros, general manager of security of the Local World Cup Organizing Committee. The most dangerous step occurred days after this event when the General Jorge Felix, Chief Minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet of the Brazilian Presidency, signed a secret military cooperation agreement whose terms involve "details on accreditation of people, organizations and companies to deal with confidential matters, and on bilateral transit secret documents". This deal spurred even more efforts by the Israeli government and military industry to gain more contracts intelligence and homeland security contracts in Brazil.
Between 2010 and 2013, the Israeli consulate in Brazil organized various meetings with federal authorities and local governments to present methods and technology of repression and proposed partnerships in the ‘security’ area. The meetings consolidated institutional links and resulted in a number of training courses for civil and military police. Many lectures, workshops and panels organized by local and federal government agencies and entrepreneurs featured Israeli security experts (in most cases ex-soldiers turned entrepreneurs or security consultants) as main panelists. In some states, the military police had the assignment to bring police and Israeli security experts to teach courses.
The Israel connection is surely not at the root of the endemic level of human rights abuses conducted by the Brazilian police, especially against poor and black people. However, when Amnesty International cited last week as one of the main causes of the rising police violence the ‘logic of confrontation with the enemy’ among the police, it becomes clear that Israeli influence has only worsened the situation.
For people in Brazil, the strengthening of military relations between Brazil and Israel is a serious threat because the military hi-tech from Israel is to be used primarily against black and poor youth and social movements and because the police trainings and military cooperation consolidate an authoritarian, punitive - and failed - public security model, which contributes to bring existing state violence to an even more dramatic level.
The international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society has received growing support from social movements and civil society and successfully pressured governments, public institutions and companies to stop their cooperation and complicity with Israeli apartheid. In Brazil, campaigns for a military embargo on Israel - which already lead to the cancelling of a government project to support the Israeli military company Elbit Systems in building an entire airspace technological park in the south of Brazil - also strengthen the struggle for the demilitarization of the police and for a radically democratic model of public security.