Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he arrives at the Elysee Palace after the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of World War One, in Paris, France, November 11, 2018.
(photo credit: REINHARD KRAUSE/REUTERS)
Just a day after new elections were called, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left the campaign trail Thursday evening to spend five days in Brazil, to attend the inauguration of a man who said he wants to upgrade ties with Israel and move the country’s embassy to Jerusalem: Jair Bolsonaro.
This will be the first-ever visit of a sitting Israeli prime minister to Brazil, the world’s fifth most populous country and the world’s eighth largest economy. With an estimated Jewish population of some 120,000, it is also the second-largest Jewish community in Latin America – after Argentina – and the ninth-largest Jewish community in the world.
Netanyahu is being joined on this trip by his wife, Sarah, as well as his son, Yair. According to a Channel 10 report, the Netanyahu family said Yair is paying for his own flight and accommodations.
Netanyahu’s trip – a significant chunk of time at the very beginning of an election campaign – will begin Friday in Rio de Janeiro, where he is scheduled to meet for a 30-minute private meeting with Bolsonaro
The two leaders will then be joined by the two men Bolsonaro has selected to serve as foreign minister and defense minister: Ernesto Araujo and Fernando Azevedo. At 5 pm he is scheduled to take part in an event at the Orthodox Kehilat Yaakov synagogue in Copacabana. Shabbat begins in Rio at 7:21.
During his trip, he also has scheduled meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, and Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera.
Netanyahu is scheduled to fly home from Brasilia early Wednesday morning after Bolsonaro’s inauguration on Tuesday.
Giora Becher, who served as Israel ambassador to Brazil from 2008 to 2011 when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was the president – and a harsh and vocal critic of israel – said that now Brazil has a president who “says openly that he is pro-Israel … this is a major change in the foreign policy of Brazil.”
Becher, in an interview with The Israel Project, said that Brazil’s vote in the UN General Assembly earlier this month in favor of Israel on a resolution condemning Hamas was historic.
“For many, many years, Brazil’s official position was always in favor – in international fora – of the Palestinian cause,” he said. “They voted always in favor of all the anti-Israel resolutions in the UN, and this is a major change of course.”
Becher said that even when Brazil was extremely critical of Israel, it made a distinction between political differences and bilateral ties, and that there were always good trade and cultural relations. For example, trade volume in 2017 between the two countries reached more than $1.1 billion.
Under Bolsonaro, Becher said, this too will change for the better: “There is a lot of space for improvement, and we will see an increase in tourism, trade, economics, investment, and of course the big change will be at the UN.”
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