Brazil's Bolsonaro Visits Western Wall With Netanyahu

Bolsonaro arrived in Israel on Sunday for a four-day visit, just days before Israel’s April 9 election

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a photo as they visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, April 1, 2019.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro toured the Western Wall with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday afternoon, both placing notes in the cracks on the wall and taking a moment of prayer.

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch joined the two leaders for a photo-op and recited a prayer.

Bolsonaro arrived in Israel on Sunday for a four-day visit, just days before Israel’s April 9 election, following up on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's December visit to Brazil for the far-right leader's inauguration. 

>> At Bolsonaro's behest, Brazil military commemorates coup that led to dictatorship ■ Trump cuts aid to pro-Israeli governments in Latin America, despite Netanyahu's mediation efforts

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is partly surrounded by security guards as leaves the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 1, 2019.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is surrounded by members of the clergy at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 1, 2019.

Netanyahu sees the rise to power of the radical, conservative Brazilian president as a chance to bolster relations with a world power that, until now, has been pro-Palestinian, and at times pro-Iranian.

"My friend, the president, we're making history together," Netanyahu said during Bolsonaro's welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport, promising the two would sign several bilateral agreements, including ones on matters of security.

"Brazil is a huge country with huge potential. I believe that under your leadership that potential would be fulfilled," he said. "You've arrived in Israel at a tense time, that is why I instructed to leave Israeli army forces, including tanks, and if we're called for it we'll engage in a campaign for the security of Israel."

LGBTQ activists put up a sign on the exit from the airport in Portuguese saying "the Holy Land doesn't want homophobes here," referring to Bolsonaro's incendiary comments in the past on homosexuals.

The Israeli government hopes that Bolsonaro will move his country's embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, although he has said he is only  considering opening a "business office there." In exchange, Israeli technology would be expected to assist Bolsonaro’s flagship project, domestic security.

At the end of December, Netanyahu was one of the few Western leaders to attend the Brazilian's inauguration, along with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban.

When the two leaders met, the embassy move was discussed but no time frame was set, and after the meeting Bolsonaro did not mention the issue, and on Thursday made the remark about setting up an office there.

This is similar to the actions of other leaders who said they would move their country’s embassy and later backtracked. Since the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem nearly a year ago, only Guatemala has done the same; Paraguay transferred its embassy and then reversed the move.

New alliances

In both Washington and Jerusalem, officials believe the Bolsonaro era will create new opportunities, especially economic ones, between Brazil and the world and weaken the traditional alliance of the so-called BRICS states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This alliance among the major developing economies has sought to undermine the old world order and challenge the United States.

Bolsonaro has denounced his country’s ties with China and Cuba, and he and his sons have openly evinced a fondness for Trump. The two leaders share a worldview, language and style on many issues.

They also have a common denominator that affects their attitude toward Israel – a strong base of evangelical Christian supporters. Both countries have large, growing and politically active evangelical communities. Evangelical support for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is part of a religious worldview that views this sovereignty as hastening the “end of days” and the second coming of Jesus.

In countries with large evangelical communities like the United States, Guatemala, the Philippines and Brazil, there is more talk about moving embassies to Jerusalem.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu in December, Bolsonaro announced his intention to visit Israel to advance cooperation between the two countries, especially on security and technology. Brazil's high crime rate was a key issue in Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign – tens of thousands of people were murdered in the country in 2017 alone.

During Netanyahu’s visit to Brazil, a political source told Haaretz that Israeli officials and Bolsonaro discussed the sale of advanced drones to Brazil, including for police use. Brazil’s murder rate is 30 times that of Israel’s, the source noted.

The source told reporters that some of the drones discussed are equipped with facial-recognition technology, which is linked to a large database to be used to pursue suspects.

Regarding Bolsonaro's extreme opinions toward women, the LGBT community and military dictatorship, a senior official told reporters at the time of Netanyahu’s visit to Brazil that “Netanyahu has his own positions and no one can diminish them, both regarding women and regarding gays.” However, the source said, “we do not have the privilege of hunkering down in our fortress of purity.”