by Marco Aurélio Máximo Prado
“I contend that these values all derive from important Jewish sources, which is not to say that they are only derived from those sources. But for me, given the history from which I emerge, it is most important as a Jew to speak out against injustice and to struggle against all forms of racism. This does not make me into a self-hating Jew. It makes me into someone who wishes to affirm a Judaism that is not identified with state violence, and that is identified with a broad-based struggle for social justice.”
Undoubtedly, either through experience, history or because of its cultural and political impact, the São Paulo LGBT Pride Parade is one of the most important ways of political and cultural expression of the Brazilian LGBT community. Although, since its early days in 1997 the Parade has undergone many changes, it is still a thrilling emotion to participate in it: an event that stops São Paulo’s huge traffic to protest and express gender and sexual diversity. The event continues to have a resounding political impact.
The São Paulo LGBT Pride Parade has navigated through very diverse political conjunctures. In the wake of struggles to overthrow the military technocratic dictatorship, the emergence of the Pride Parade connected directly to the struggles for democracy, in which the LGBT community played a crucial role. It is no accident that the organization and mobilization capacity of the LGBT community has grown exponentially as struggles and gains in social rights deepened and widened, from the 1988 Constitution until the election of PT (Labour Party) in the 2000’s. Throughout this trajectory, the Association that organizes the parade received threats. In 2000, Beto de Jesus, then President of the Association, received a bomb inside a letter that put his life at risk.
In 2018, São Paulo Pride was once again the stage of a political polemic, now with a transnational imprint. For the first time in its history, the event received support from the Israel Consulate in São Paulo. A partnership between the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, the Accor Hotel chain and fashion designer Alexandre Herchcovith, the Israel General Consulate in São Paulo has provided funds to the Parade. The partnership implied the participation of representatives of the Israel LGBT community at the Parade Pride and a “Tel Aviv” float featured has crossed Paulista Avenue. Not less importantly (or perhaps even more), a few days prior to the Pride Parade, the Consul of Israel in São Paulo was also present at the March for Jesus, a massive Christian gathering of people who tend to oppose LGBT rights. The images of the diplomat speaking to the crowd surrounded by female pastors wrapped in the Israeli flag became viral across social media.
Israel’s seemingly paradoxical movement to support LGBT rights with one hand and with the other to wave to Christian religious communities is far from trivial. It happens in the year that marks seventy years after the establishment of the Israeli state and cannot be fully apprehended if not situated in relation to the political economy that ties Brazil and Israel. One of these ties was the role played by Brazilian diplomacy at the UN in the negotiation that led to the creation of the state of Israel, insightfully analyzed in the article authored by Gilberto Gil and Tom Job Azulay and published by Folha de São Paulo. (in Portuguese) Today, the double gesture made by Israel to the LGBTT Pride and the March for Jesus coincides with a Brazilian-Israeli agreement that, according to their government representatives, marks a turning point in economic relations between the two countries.
The agreement involves exchanges in the science and technology domain. It specifically concerns increasing trade in the public security, military equipment and logistics, but that also encompasses cooperation in various areas of scientific research, as for example, related to the Brazilian satellite program, which is of special interest for Israel. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Brazil has consolidated as the fifth largest buyer of Israeli arms this year.
On the political front, the agreement is also seen as a Brazilian policy shift towards supporting the Israeli cause against Palestine at the UN. According to the Israeli Science and Technology Commissioner:
“I hope that due to the improvement in our bilateral relations — and in the name of the brighter future I foresee — Brazil will follow our votes, for example at the UN, when the Palestinians demand decisions against Israel.”
Against this background, the presence of Israel in São Paulo LGBTT Parade drags with it vast areas of shadows. Right before the event, Israel once again shocked the world initiating a new cycle of brutal action against the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories, that implied the burning of children and hundreds of people assassinated. This tragedy did not prevent Tel Aviv Parade from cheerfully celebrating the Israeli state seventieth anniversary with a strong appeal to international participation. We cannot forget either that the conservative restoration underway in Brazil has openly favored Israel’s interests and vice versa. In 2016, a certain captain candidate returned from his christening to make lectures in Jewish associations despite progressive Jewish protests. In May 2018, while Gaza was drowning in blood, and the American embassy was inaugurated in Jerusalem, the Evangelical group in the Congress bench called upon the Executive to also shift its diplomatic representation to Jerusalem.
Finally, since 2017, the presence of the Israeli right has been unequivocal in Brazilian sexual politics. It circulated pamphlets (in English) against Judith Butler’s visit and an Israel flag was flaring in the protest where the philosopher’s effigy was burned. Then as reported by SPW, in May 2018, Sara Winter, the current Brazilian voice against abortion, arrived for a debate in the Federal Fluminense University (UFF) — opposed by the protest of students — wrapped in the same flag.
Under these conditions and because Israel pinkwashing strategy has been for some time criticized in Brazil, the presence of the Tel Aviv pride in São Paulo was inevitably subjected to controversies. Members of political parties — such as PSOL, PCB and PSTU — interrogated the participation, claiming that it was unacceptable for the parade to be funded by a state that systematically massacres Palestinian citizens. The Israel presence to the São Paulo Parade was therefore polemic. After all, what is the real intention of Israel when it declares its support for diversity and to the LGBT cause in a country known for the widespread violations against LGBT people? It is to be interpreted as “pink money” or “pinkwashing”, but one of a very specific form. The support for LGBT rights is done in exchange for increased Brazilian imports of arms and security technology, in other words, at the costs of further arming an already highly militarized country.
Are we watching a new stage in the rapport between Brazil and Israel? Or is this just the continuation of a long-standing relation, now disguised under an empty diversity speech that aims at covering pro-Israel trade interests and countervailing international critiques of Israel treatment of Palestine? The collusion between the state of Israel and the São Paulo Parade represents a stain in the history of the Brazilian LGBT struggles. Nothing justifies aligning the Parade with actors who support the massacre of Palestinians or the groups that, in the Brazilian Congress, propel dogmatic religious interest and the interests of the arms industry.
Marco Aurélio Máximo Prado is an Associate Professor at the Human Rights and LGBT Citizenship Research Group of the Federal University of Minas Gerais.