Diplomats who visit the President’s Residence sometimes meet with the president’s wife Michal, but usually only with President Herzog.
However, when Gerson Menandro, the outgoing ambassador of Brazil arrived at the President’s Residence on Monday, he specifically came to meet with Michal, on whom he conferred one of his country’s most prestigious civilian honors.
Michal Herzog’s late father Colonel Shaul Afek, a veteran of the Palmach, had been an Israel military attache in Brazil where Michal Herzog spent some of her formative years, and fondly recalls, her school days there between 1972 and 1975.
Receiving the Grand Cross of the Order of Rio Branco
It was thus appropriate that Menandro, a retired army general who was appointed by former president Jair Bolsonaro in 2020, should present her with the Grand Cross of the Order of Rio Branco. Awarded by the Foreign Ministry of Brazil, in recognition of bridge-building between nations.
It was inaugurated in 1963, and is named in memory of Jose Maria da Silva Paranhos, a Brazilian noble and career diplomat, who rose in rank to foreign minister, a position that he held from 1902 to until his death in 1912, serving under four different presidents.
Considered to be the father of Brazil’s diplomacy, he was also known as Baron Rio Branco. He was particularly successful in negotiating territorial disputes with Brazil’s neighbors, a feat that determined Brazil’s permanent borders, said Menandro, for whom this was his last official duty on the day before leaving Israel to return to Brazil.
Menandro’s key brief was to enhance security cooperation between the two countries. When President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva returned to power last year after serving a prison term for corruption, one of his early decisions was to oust Menandro, because he was one of Bolsonaro’s people.
Whereas Bolsonaro was very pro-Israel, Lula is more favorably disposed towards the Palestinians, who demonstrated against President Shimon Peres when he visited Brazil in November 2009.
Michal said she was hopeful that relations between Israel and Brazil would continue to grow and flourish.
Among those present at the conferment ceremony was Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshine, who Menandro said was doing “a fantastic job’ in promoting relations between their two countries.
Menandro told The Jerusalem Post that he hoped that Brazil’s new government would continue to build on what he had been able to achieve, and that even though he would be out of office, he would continue to be in contact with Zonshine, in order to push for closer relations and greater unity.