Why did Brazil vote to brand Zionism a form of Racism?, by Norma Breda dos Santos & Eduardo Uziel

One of the most controversial episodes in the history of Brazilian foreign policy was the 1975 decision to vote in favour of a draft stating that “[d]etermines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”, subsequently known as resolution 3379 (XXX). The Brazilian yea vote enraged the US and caused a wave of criticism in the Brazilian press, in spite of the military regime strictures on the freedom of expression. To this day, the Brazilian Jewish community invokes the vote when it wants to raise the suspicion of anti-Semitism on the Brazilian government.

On the 40th anniversary of this momentous vote, the article Forty Years of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 (XXX) on Zionism and Racism: the Brazilian Vote as an instance of United States – Brazil Relations published in the latest issue of Revista Brasileria de Política Internacional (Volume 58, 2/2015) wishes to reassess the response behind the Brazilian decision. Analyses contemporary to the vote tended to overestimate the relevance of the dependence of Brazil from oil produced by Arab countries, which staunchly supported the resolution. This assessment was barely based on documents – a symptom of the Brazilian situation of those years – and required reevaluation in view of primary sources. Another strand of interpretation presented the case of a clash of “imperialisms” between Brazil and the US. This version clearly could not count on documentation, but overemphasized the purposefulness of Brazilian foreign policy.

The article’s approach to its envisioned reassessment is fourfold. Firstly, the decision-making process of the so-called “responsible pragmatism” underlined the personalist character of the decisions, centered on President Geisel and Foreign Minister Silveira. Secondly, a historical recapitulation was made of how Brazil saw the US and the Middle East since World War II to contextualize how relevant the vote was. In particular, it is highlighted how Brazil expected the US to respect its decisions on the Middle East.

Thirdly, and mostly forgotten in previous analyses, the article located the Brazilian decision within the broader parliamentarian context of the United nations, mainly in view of the rise of the Third World after the 1973 oil crisis. The main point here was to characterize how indispensable was the positive vote in order to endear Brazil with Third world countries or at least to prevent acrimony and even sanctions.

Finally, a deep empirical investigation was made – including previously untapped sources from the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil – to follow, as much as possible, the concrete decision-making process of the Brazilian diplomacy in concluding that the country should vote in favour of resolution 3379 (XXX). What transpires from the documents is, on the one hand, a yea vote that was far from a foregone conclusion and, on the other, a strong reaction of Brazil to what was seen as not only as a US encroachment on Brazilian sovereignty but also a betrayal of Kissinger’s intention to establish between the two countries a more mature and equalitarian (as much as possible) relationship.

An overall balance of the research could be described in a few points. There is a lack of empirical work on Brazilian foreign policy, with texts being based mainly on public statements and structural assumptions. The difficulties in gaining access to the documentation until a few years ago could explain this attitude, but are not real anymore. A tendency has been growing for more archival research but needs to be further developed. In addition, a general conception prevail that Brazilian foreign policy was or should have been a perfected strategy from the early days of any government. This reasoning leads to a presentation of empirical evidence as playing out some predisposed a-historical plan. The research on Brazil’s vote on resolution 3379 (XXX) dispels both misled conception and indicate a need to reassess the history of Brazilian foreign relations. In this regard, the article in intended as a provocation for other researchers.

Read the article: 

SANTOS, NORMA BREDA DOS, & UZIEL, EDUARDO. (2015). Forty Years of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 (XXX) on Zionism and Racism: the Brazilian Vote as an instance of United States – Brazil Relations. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 58(2), 80-97. 

Norma Breda dos Santos é Professora do Instituto de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de Brasília (UnB), e-mail: breda@unb.br

Eduardo Uziel é Professor do Instituto Rio Branco, e-mail: uziele@gmail.com

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