Prejudice As Loud as Bombs

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We are months past the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict. While Brazil is busy gearing up for Carnival, the prejudice felt in Brazil by Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and a host of others is present, insidious, and lingering. Brazil houses affluent Jewish and Arab communities and is a country known for receiving immigrants and refugees from many parts of the world. Yet, it holds a dark place in its heart with the poison of prejudice.

Grupo Globo reported that in November, antisemitism “grew by almost 1000% in Brazil since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas” citing the Israeli Confederation of Brazil and the State of São Paulo Israeli Federation. In January, Grupo Globo shared the story of businesswoman Sandra Chayo, who received hateful comments online because she is Jewish. Since the start of the war, Jewish Brazilian entities are subjected to about 15 hateful incidents per day, according to the report. This population is already on edge due to a growth of neo-Nazi cells within Brazil.

Hatred is also experienced by the Palestinian community in Brazil, as seen by Brazilian-Palestinian Hasan Rabee. After recording the Palestinian perspective of the conflict on his social media accounts, Rabee was flooded with hate messages once he appeared on the news, fleeing the war seeking refuge in Brazil. After his experience was aired, critics uncovered past anti-Israeli messages from his online profiles, and it became open season for attacks on him, leading to death threats, and a need for protection by law enforcement.

Although a minor player, Brazil often advocates for peace in the international community. Due to its soft power and collective imagery, it is perceived as a tropical paradise with open arms ready to receive people from different parts of the world and paths of life. But many hailing from Israel-Palestine, who have settled in Brazil, can feel an age-old presence of prejudice, despite a desire to move on with their lives and start anew.

Children stand amid the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 27, 2024.

AFP via Getty Images

While I aim to not take a side in this piece, finger-pointing by those who deem themselves experts is one foundation for prejudice that affects the Israeli and Arab experiences in Brazil. As many ordinary folks that consume “news,” or other forms of media that pass as such start to see themselves as “experts,” this can result in the proliferation of ill-informed narratives that begin to take root as “truths.” Sometimes these positions are affirmed by those with scholarly degrees, giving legitimacy to hate speech. While words are just words, they can directly impact people’s lives in ways that can produce mental health struggles, or even instigate hate speech and death threats.

Among the most affected are children. I saw on the news, a child, from Palestine. He came with his family to Brazil to live with relatives as refugees from the conflict. While explaining how he coped, his eyes showed the war weariness of a veteran when he uttered, “There is stuff that happened here [in Palestine] that I wish I could forget.” Those same words could have also come from the mouth of an Israeli child.

Children on both sides of the conflict, as in many war zones, grow up with soundtracks that are symphonies of missiles, bombs, and gunfire. In the news, the Israelis are seen desperately protesting for their kidnapped loved ones, while the Palestinians are depicted as covered in blood and starving. Above all else, none of these scenarios are remotely healthy. These traumatic experiences are further compounded with hate speech and damaging narratives that are now present in Brazil. What could be a refuge from war may become an environment of discrimination that will likely breed contempt.

While there is a newfound calm from the violence in Israel-Palestine for refugees in Brazil, our country can be violent, too. Refugees must remain attentive as suffering might break through the cracks of their realities, when instead they should be comfortable playing, studying, or with their families.

Their traumas then are met with prejudice in a new land, as seen in the Brazilian experience of the rise of antisemitism and anti-Palestine as in Chayo and Rabee’s situations. These realities are already well-known by impoverished African and Latin American immigrants, who are treated differently when compared to their North American, Asian, and European counterparts, highlighting the failures of our so-called racial democracy.

The Brazil of goals scored at the Maracanã Stadium, and multi-racial bodies dancing through the night in the rhythm of samba, are relics from the past, or exist mainly in fantasies. I hope those escaping the horrors of war find a safe place to move on with their lives and not experience even more trauma. Brazilians must be cautioned to not receive them with hatred, as they have already been subjected to too much hate.

Gabriel Leão works as a journalist and is based in São Paulo, Brazil. He has written for outlets in Brazil, the U.K., Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. such as WIRED, Al Jazeera, Vice, Dicebreaker, Scarleteen, Women’s Media Center, Clash magazine, Anime Herald, Anime Feminist, and Brazil’s ESPN Magazine having started his career at Brazil’s TV Cultura as an intern. Leão also holds a master’s degree in communications and a post-grad degree in foreign relations.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.