Behind the Headlines the Jews of Brazil
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Behind the Headlines the Jews of Brazil

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During the days of the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas here (1930-1945), many Jews, especially Communists, were in the forefront of the human rights struggle. Many were jailed or expelled from Brazil. A not-able example is Olga Prestes, Jewish wife of the leader of the Communist opposition. She was deported to her native Germany in 1941 and perished in a Nazi concentration camp there a year later.

But there is little evidence of real leftist leadership by Jews in the Communist Party of Brazil after the 1950’s. The exceptions, who were heroic during the worst days of the later dictatorship (1964-1985), did not consider themselves part of the Jewish community.

Today in Sao Paulo there is a small number of young Jewish leftists with an ideology different from that of the older generation of Communists. Franciso Moreno de Carvalho is the personification of this new generation of Brazilian Jewish Socialists who are dedicated to human rights and social justice.

He and his colleagues are a small group, but they have a vocal presence that the much more conservative Jewish establishment must acknowledge and reckon with. (They are neither pro-Soviet nor Communist.)

Moreno de Carvalho, 27, is a physician who is currently studying acupuncture. In addition to his leadership of leftist Jewish movements, he teaches a course in Soviet Jewry at Congregacao Israelita Paulista and participates in a Jewish Agency-sponsored Seminar on Zionist thought.


About three-and-a-half years ago, de Carvalho and some dozen others, most of them in their twenties, formed the Brazilian Friends of Peace Now. Although the Peace Now organization was created to deal with issues of peace in the Middle East, the Brazilian group has a broader focus, with seminars on issues of Middle East and World peace, and all Jewish questions viewed from a perspective of peace.

The group publishes a newspaper four times a year, which contains original articles and those translated into Portuguese from such magazines as New Outlook, an Israeli Mapam-oriented publication. Meetings are held weekly, and the small nucleus has organized important public events.

On December 2, 1985, Friends of Peace Now sponsored a debate on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the United Nations “Zionism is racism” resolution. It is important to note that the Federacao Israelita do Estado de Sao Paulo, the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation, collaborated with Peace Now on the event.

Speakers included: Alberto Goldman, a Jewish Federal Deputy, Communist Party of Brazil; Benno Milnitzky, president of the Confederacao Israelita do Brasil; Henrique Rattner, sociology professor at University of Sao Paulo; Rabbi Henry Sobel; and Prof. Paul Singer.

Co-sponsorship by the Federation gave the Peace Now group a stamp of legitimacy. On the other hand, it gave the Federation a measure of control over this “radical” group in its midst.

Peace Now also sponsored a public event to protest President Reagan’s visit to Bitburg, and holds a yearly commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. This year’s theme was that Jews have been persecuted, and must work to see that others are not persecuted.


Moreno de Carvalho’s attempts to teach ethics and strive for world peace from a leftist perspective have recently brought him to a new alliance that will probably prove even more controversial to the Jewish establishment. Along with seven other Socialist Jews, of whom all but one consider themselves Zionists, Moreno de Carvalho last June 30 arranged with the director of the Workers Party (PT) to create a Commission on Jewish Affairs within the party.

The PT, which was formed in 1979, is an open party of the masses, the most Socialist and democratic in Brazil. It is the “blackest” party in Brazil, and the only one with a concrete program for the defense of minorities (i.e. Blacks, Indians). For virtually every leader of the Jewish community with whom I spoke, PT is tantamount to the enemy.

The party is pro-PLO and perceived as anti-Israel. Moreno de Carvalho and his colleages believe that pro-PLO does not have to mean anti-Israel; they are working within the party on this premise.

“The goal of the commission is to work within the party against preconceived ideas about Jews, and against such ideas as ‘Zionism equals racism’, “Moreno de Carvalho said. To the Jewish community, the commission wants to demonstrate that you can be a Jew and be in the PT. Leaders of the community, wealthy and often on the right, are against the leftist PT, especially because of the party’s pro-PLO stance. They refuse to look beyond this to PT’s domestic social justice platforms. The PT is often assailed in the Jewish press, such as O Hebreu.


At a meeting of the PT Commission on Jewish Affairs, I was told the group’s platform is: to fight against anti-Semitism; to try to dialogue with Palestinians in the PT; to contact Middle East peace organizations in Brazil and outside; to help recruit new party members; to work with the Black community to affirm that Brazil is a pluralist society. (PT has about 50,000 members in Sao Paulo.)

According to commission members, there are Libyans and Syrians in Brazil who publicly speak of destroying Israel. Within the PT, there are more Arabs than Jews. There are some 10 million Arabs and their descendants in Brazil, many of whom are Christian. Brazil has the largest Arab community outside the Middle East, but many are intermarried and they are not a cohesive community. In Sao Paulo, there are only two mosques, and about 20,000 Moslems (as compared to about 70,000 Jews).

Whether the PT Commission on Jewish Affairs makes a breakthrough in either the party or with the Jewish establishment remains to be seen. Confederacao president Milnitzky told me they had scheduled an appointment to discuss the commission with him.

For left-leaning Zionists like Moreno de Carvalho, the issue is balancing the party’s solid domestic platforms with a foreign policy that is acceptable. “I’m a Zionist, I’m a Jew, and I’m a socialist,” he told me proudly. In Brazil, and elsewhere today, this can be a problematic combination.

(Tomorrow: Part Four)

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