Latin America in Israel's crosshairs

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The following article is abridged from a July 29 statement by the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall group

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has wrapped up a 10-day tour through South America, the first of its kind for more than two decades. His trip was aimed at launching a new direction for Israeli foreign policy.

The people of Brazil and Argentina met him with loud street protests, denouncing him as an emblem of Israeli racism, fascism and colonialism. People have refused to play the quiet host to members of a regime that for more than 60 years has kept Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes, oppressing the remaining population and developing ever more extreme forms of repression and apartheid.

The brutal massacre in Gaza at the beginning of this year, and the ongoing construction of the illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, are but two of the issues adding to the perception of Israel as a pariah state by ordinary people across the world.

However. Israel's new focus on developing links with South America also forces the continent to make fundamental choices regarding its own aspirations and alignments.

Israel's recently strengthened interest in the region is partially motivated by the fact that 21% of Israeli exporters have announced losses due to European boycotts. To offset this, Israel has developed much more vital and strategic interests in South America as well as Africa.

Until recently, Israel's support for neoliberalism and US intervention in Latin America has been mainly aimed at ingratiating the regime with the US administration, on whose political and financial backing Israel depends. This allowed Israel to limit the influence of the Latin American liberation movements, who feel a strong attachment to the Palestinian struggle.

For Israel, a colonial state built on the expulsion and repression of the indigenous population, the rise of anti-colonial and liberating forces anywhere in the world is a potential threat.

During decades of US military intervention and backing to fascist dictatorships across the Latin American region, Israel provided training to the death squads of the dictatorships. This opened a large market for Israeli arms and intelligence industries, but was rarely accompanied by a comprehensive policy in trading agreements.

This is changing radically. In times of global economic crisis and contracting markets in Europe and North America, where successes for the boycott Israel movement are compounding Israel's difficulties, finding new trading partners becomes crucial.

Large-scale expansion of markets in the Arab and Muslim world is ruled out. Even where governments are coaxed into stopping boycotts and sanctions, such as in Egypt or Jordan, public opinion bars Israeli investments and products from penetrating the markets.

Latin America, and especially Brazil and Argentina, are a potential life buoy for Israeli products. It is therefore no surprise that during his tour Lieberman constantly reiterated the need for the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc to ratify the free trade agreement (FTA) with Israel, signed in 2008. Mercosur members include Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Lieberman also held meetings with local business communities in order to push for further economic cooperation with Israel.

However, for the region's people, Israel has nothing new to offer. Israeli arms and military training are still killing Latin Americans. Colombia is probably the biggest recipient of Israeli arms and training.

Colombian paramilitary leader and indicted drug trafficker Carlos Castao admitted: "I learned an infinite amount of things in Israel, and to that country I owe part of my essence, my human and military achievements."

In Brazil, Israel is still actively involved in the repression of the people. Amnesty International is campaigning to ask the state of Rio de Janeiro to stop using the Caveirao, the armoured transport vehicle imported from Israel, to intimidate whole communities and kill indiscriminately.

While the entire American continent has isolated the current regime in Honduras, after the overthrow of the legitimate president, the leader of the coup has announced Israeli backing for his government.

Worse, Israeli diplomacy is designed to effectively block South America's strategic and long-standing efforts to develop South-South relations, such as the creation of Mercosur, the establishment of the Bank of the South and diplomatic efforts to create special relationships such as the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) initiative.

The strengthened relations with the Arab world and the energy producers of the Middle East are strategic ties that may allow the global South to play a stronger role in world politics and to create a more just world order. Israeli diplomatic efforts are working counter to all these projects.

In fact, Lieberman's visit to South America, and Israel's new foreign policy strategy, force a choice on the governments and people of South America, which goes far beyond solidarity with Palestine:will South American politics move forward in constructing a new continental and global order based on democracy, human rights and mutual solidarity or will it fall pray to those that are working against the emancipation of Latin America and the Global South?

The protests during Lieberman's visit show where the people stand. They show that those that have built a colonial state on the destruction of the Palestinian people can never be allies of democratic and progressive countries.

In fact, the choice of countries on Lieberman's agenda was probably simple — not many other South American states would have hosted the racist minister.

Only in Brazil, Peru and Colombia did the heads of state meet with Lieberman.

We hope that the recent victories won by the people of Latin America will translate into imposing popular demands to reject Israel on the governments that still welcome Lieberman.

Palestinian civil society has repeatedly asked South American states not to ratify free trade agreements with Israel — as such agreements will finance the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

This is the yard stick by which the world should measure South American politics. If Mercosur accepts an FTA with Israel, any rhetoric of human rights and democracy will be empty words.

Refusing it, South America can open a new chapter in the history of cooperation among the global South and the struggle for Palestinian emancipation.