The Complex Relationship between the Brazilian Jewish Community and Israel: the Jewish Institutions and Their Leadership in São Paulo

August 31, 2017

Source: University of Leiden 

The thesis has sought to shed light into the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel through the lenses of the Brazilian Jewish community. Due to the fact that it holds the largest Jewish population of Brazil and hosts numerous prominent Jewish organisations, the state of São Paulo was chosen as the case study of the research. Based on the analysis of publications and websites of those institutions and, mainly, of interviews with the most important leaders of the Jewish organisations in São Paulo, the author has tried to bring to the fore their chief activities concerning Israel. Furthermore, the conduction of semi-structured interviews enabled the identification of attitudes and perceptions of the main Jewish Brazilian leaders towards Israel, as well as their role as members of a significant Jewish Diaspora. Central political issues that affect Israel, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, were also analysed by the leaders of the most prominent Jewish institutions. The relevance of the research lies in the fact that it touches upon issues of long-distance nationalism, collective identity and Diaspora politics from a standpoint that is not sufficiently explored by the contemporary academia.

In order to contribute to the academic debate about the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel, the present thesis will explore issues of “long-distance nationalism” by focusing specifically on the Jewish institutions of São Paulo and their leadership. On one side, the thesis will delve into the acts and attitudes of the Jewish organisations concerning Israel. On the other, it will assess the opinions of the leaders of the most prominent institutions regarding current Israeli policies and, especially, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, analysing the extent to which these leaders absorb and reproduce traditional political stances of its real or imaginary homeland, Israel. This is a 4fundamental discussion, as it raises multiple questions about collective identity, secular and/or religious affiliation to Israel, and loyalty and has considerable repercussions in the field of politics. The aim of the thesis is not, however, to explore the various elements that form the individual Jewish identity of Brazilian Jews but to focus on one particular element, their collective identity vis-à-vis Israel.

The thesis is divided in four main chapters. The first chapter addresses the most pertinent concepts for the research, namely Diaspora, identity and community. The second provides a historical context whereby the history of the Jewish migration to Brazil, the history of Brazilian and Israeli relations, and the history of Zionism in Brazil are analysed. The third chapter encompasses the central part of the research: the Jewish institutions in São Paulo and their leadership. It includes the analysis of the case study and reflections and insights built upon the twelve interviews conducted personally with Jewish leaders in São Paulo. The final section of the thesis offers concluding remarks.

Updated: Feb. 26, 2018