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Elbit Systems loses key Brazil deal over Palestine protests

The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has cancelled a major collaboration deal with Israeli military company Elbit Systems in the wake of protests over the firm’s role in oppression of Palestinians.

Brazilian social movements and trade unions and Palestinian groups had called on authorities to cancel the deal over Elbit’s role in the construction of Israel’s illegal apartheid Wall in the occupied West Bank and its close relationship with the Israeli military.

The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has cancelled a major collaboration deal with Israeli military company Elbit Systems in the wake of protests over the firm’s role in oppression of Palestinians.

Brazilian social movements and trade unions and Palestinian groups had called on authorities to cancel the deal over Elbit’s role in the construction of Israel’s illegal apartheid Wall in the occupied West Bank and its close relationship with the Israeli military.

Tarson Nuñéz, the coordinator of the international relations department of the Rio Grande do Sul government described his government’s decision by saying:

"Our government has always given centrality to the promotion of peace and human rights and considers the demands of the social movements and important voice that needs to be heard. Today’s announcement is a logical consequence of this.”

Drones supplied by Elbit Systems were tested during Israel’s recent attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, and Elbit’s share price has risen since the massacre as investors anticipated a rise in orders of technology that was used for the first time during the attacks.

Rio Grande do Sul governor Tarso Genro had signed a research cooperation deal making Elbit the first Israeli military companyto lead Brazilian military projects in April 2013. Elbit was to be provided access to public funding and technologies produced by four local universities. Ongoing protests and lack of federal support had weakened the project. In his open letter, Genro declared the memorandum of understanding to be “void of meaning”.

A $17m plan to build a military satellite is among the projects cancelled by Tuesday’s announcement.

The announcement has been welcomed as a major victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian led campaign for the South Africa-style international isolation of Israel.

Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Palestinian Stop the Wall campaign, a member of the BDS National Committee coalition of organisations that leads the BDS movement, said:

“Elbit Systems has become a symbol of Israel’s construction of an apartheid wall in occupied Palestine and its military aggression against our people. Israel is only able to sustain its human rights violations because of international collaboration including through deals such as the one that the Rio Grande do Sul government has now cancelled.”

“In the wake of Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, we hope that other governments will take steps to end military cooperation with Israel.”

Brazilian organisations including the CUT trade union federation, the World March of Women and local student groups and political parties had all pressured the Rio Grande do Sul authorities to cancel the deal with Elbit Systems and even blockaded entrances to premises owned by Elbit subsidiary AEL Sistemas. The Palestinian embassy and the Palestinian Federation in Brazil have repeatedly intervened with the government.

The rector of the university leading aerospace research in the region had declared that the university would not work with Elbit Systems on any research that could have military research, casting the viability of the memorandum of understanding into doubt.

Antonio Lisboa, secretary of international relations at the CUT trade union federation, said:

“This welcome decision of the government of Rio Grande do Sul reflects the growing opposition to Israel’s apartheid policies. The Brazilian government must now cut all military ties with Israel, a state that practices state terrorism against Palestinians.”

In 2009, the Norwegian state pension fund divested from Elbit Systems, and more than a dozen institutional investors have since followed this example.

Elbit factories in the UK and Australia were occupied during Israel’s recent Gaza massacre.

Governments and local authorities are increasingly taking action against corporate complicity with Israeli violations of international law. At least 17 EU governments have warned businesses about the risks of doing business in illegal Israeli settlements. French multinational Veolia has lost more than $20bn in contracts with local authorities over its provision of infrastructure services to illegal Israeli settlements.

Rio Grande do Sul had already stated to play an important role regarding the question of Palestine when in 2012 the World Social Forum Free Palestine was held in Porto Alegre.

Mahmoud Nawajaa, the coordinator with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, said:

“This decision is an important example of how the grassroots organizing of the BDS movement can influence and change government policy. Earlier this week, we met under the umbrella of the UN to discuss effective measures to coordinate policies by local governments to exclude companies that help Israel violate international law from public contracts”.

Jamal Juma’ from Stop the Wall added:

“Today’s decision gives hope to all Palestinians resisting Israel’s brutal apartheid system. We thank all those movements and activists that have made this victory for Palestinian rights possible”.