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Is Brazil’s New Government Good for Israel?

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Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.Credit: Andre Coelho/Bloomberg

Brazil, the most important country in South America, has elected a new president – Jair Bolsonaro. A country rich in natural resources, with the eighth largest economy in the world, it has for years been beset by rampant corruption and economic crisis in an outstanding example of governmental mismanagement. The people of Brazil have signaled that they want a change. Those responsible for years of corruption are out. 

On August 31, 2016 the Brazilian Senate removed Rousseff from office. Replacing Rousseff was Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party who vied against Bolsonaro in the election. In the same election, Rousseff herself failed in her bid to win a seat in the Senate.

Rousseff’s administration had allowed the opening of a Palestinian embassy in the Brazilian capital, Brazilia, and maintained close relationships with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, it came as a surprise when Brazil refused to approve the appointment of Danny Dayan, a resident of the Karnei Shomron settlement in Samaria, as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil in 2015. The approval of an ambassador by the host country, although part of the diplomatic protocol, is generally considered no more than a formality. It did not turn out to be the case this time. Brazil withheld from approving the appointment.

Prior to Brazil’s decision, a number of Israelis took the very unusual step of approaching the Brazilian government urging it to reject the appointment. Among them were former Israeli ambassadors who in the past had loyally served the Israeli government without regard to who approved their appointment. Whether their recommendations to the Brazilian government had an impact on the final decision is not known. Israel had no choice but to withdraw Dayan’s appointment as ambassador to Brazil and appoint someone else in his stead, who was duly approved.

Dayan is now serving as Israel’s Consul General in New York City. It is unlikely that this episode could have occurred under the administration of the newly elected Brazilian president, Bolsonaro.

As was to be expected, Bolsonaro’s election was denounced by critics, both inside and outside Brazil, some of whom labeled him a populist similar to U.S. President Donald Trump. Such criticism has also been voiced in Israel. Whether he will succeed in overcoming massive corruption and liberalizing Brazil’s economy, the tasks he has set for himself, remains to be seen. For Israel the question is whether he is good for Israel.

So far the indications are that Israeli-Brazilian relations are about to change substantially for the better. After 13 years under the presidencies of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, it looks like there is going to be a radical change.

Moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was one of Bolsonaro’s early announcements and would constitute and dramatic change. Only a handful of central American countries have followed the American example in this regard.

Bolsonaro has already spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who plans to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration. One can safely assume Bolsonaro will also visit Jerusalem.

Establishing that kind of relationship with one of the world’s great countries can only mean increased stature for Israel among the nations. There is no doubt that the change in Brazil is good for Israel. Hopefully, it is also good for Brazil.

Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), gestures at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 28, 2018.Credit: REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

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