At BRICS Summit, Countries Diverge Slightly on Israel and War in Gaza

The BRICS group of developing countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — held a virtual summit on the war in Gaza on Tuesday, articulating divergent positions on the conflict that together reflected the reluctance of some nations outside the world’s largest industrialized democracies to fall in behind Washington’s support for Israel.

Several other nations that have been invited to join the BRICS group next year also attended the conference — Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates. A joint statement released by the group on Tuesday called for the release of all civilians who are being illegally held captive, as well as a humanitarian truce that would lead to a cessation of hostilities. The U.N. secretary general’s office signed on to the statement.

“We condemned any kind of individual or mass forcible transfer and deportation of Palestinians from their own land,” the statement said.

But the statement obscured subtle differences among the positions of the BRICS members. South Africa voiced stronger criticism of Israel than China, Brazil and Russia did, while India took a quieter approach.

In his speech to the conference, President Xi Jinping of China called for a cease-fire and an end to what he called collective punishment by Israel of people in Gaza. Mr. Xi, who was speaking by video, said the international community should take steps to stop the war from spreading. China last month vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that stated that Israel had the right to defend itself.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who also called in his speech for a cease-fire, said BRICS states, along with countries in the region, could play an important role in finding a political solution to the conflict.

Moscow has expressed muted support for Israel after an attack on Oct. 7 in which Hamas killed around 1,200 people, most of them civilians; Mr. Putin did not call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to express condolences until many days later.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the summit host, also said Israel’s conduct in the war violated international law, repeating his strong criticism of the Israeli government, even as he said BRICS could help resolve the conflict.

“The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime,” he said. “The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide.”

Last week, South Africa referred Israel to the International Criminal Court. This week Israel recalled its ambassador to South Africa, while South Africa’s parliament voted to shut down the Israeli embassy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India did not address the gathering, and it was unclear whether this reflected a shift in the country’s position on the war in Gaza.

Shortly after the Oct. 7 attacks, Mr. Modi posted on X, formerly Twitter, that India stood in “solidarity with Israel.” Late last month, India also abstained from a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, arguing that the text did not condemn Hamas.

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, called the war a “humanitarian catastrophe” but avoided using the word genocide as he has in the past. He said Hamas’s terrorist attacks, while “barbaric,” did not justify the use of “indiscriminate and disproportionate force against civilians.”

“The innocent pay the price for the insanity of war, especially women, children and the elderly,” he said.

Ivan Nechepurenko, Chris Buckley and Jack Nicas contributed reporting.