Saving face in Brazil

It all began in August when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first announced that the right-wing Dayan to replace Reda Mansour as Israel’s envoy.

Dani Dayan.
There is bad blood between Jerusalem and Brasilia over the appointment of Dani Dayan as Israeli ambassador to Brazil.
It all began in August when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first announced that the right-wing Dayan, a former head of the Yesha settlers’ council, was Israel’s choice to replace Reda Mansour as Israel’s envoy. The announcement was followed shortly afterward with cabinet approval of Dayan, which paved the way for formal recognition by the Brazilian government.
However, the appointment was met by the Brazilians with resounding silence. Several months went by without an answer. In diplomatic parlance this non-reaction was Brazil’s way of saying no.
For a short while it seemed to be possible to settle the matter quietly. Brazil would say nothing and Israel would send Dayan to another equally important post, such as consul-general in Los Angeles.
Doing so would have sidestepped the question of whether or not Dayan’s appointment was rejected due to his political activism. And Dayan, who grew up in Argentina, would be able to put to use his Spanish skills to reach out to the large Latino community in Southern California.
But in mid-January Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s top foreign policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, said publicly that Dayan’s appointment was a “mistake.” He referenced Dayan’s past as a leader of the settlement movement and his opposition to Palestinian statehood. Aurélio Garcia also accused Jerusalem of violating protocol by announcing Dayan’s nomination before informing Brasilia.
Undoubtedly, the incident sets a bad precedent. If Israel backs down, we might be seeing additional countries nixing Israel’s diplomatic appointments due to the political opinions held by the candidate. Just as BDS activists boycott products produced beyond the Green Line, countries antagonistic toward Israel – and there is no shortage of them – might start blackballing diplomats who happen to live beyond the Green Line.
Just this week, MK Anat Berko (Likud) accused the Brazilian government of aiding those who call for boycotts against Israel, saying: “If that’s the Brazilian government’s position, Israel should not send an ambassador there at all, so as not to give other countries the same opportunity.”
Sometimes it is better to be smart than right. Maintaining good relations with Brazil is an Israeli interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, unlike other countries, Brazil is not a lost case when it comes to Israel. Twenty-two percent of Brazil’s population of 200 million are evangelicals, many of whom with a positive perception of Israel.
As Shimon Samuels and Ariel Gelblung of the Simon Wiesenthal Center pointed out in an oped in The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday entitled “The Brazil relationship – too important to lose,” anti-Israel sentiment in South America is getting easier to overcome. As the two pointed out, “the once Chavez-dominated, Iran-influenced ALBA bloc (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba) is floundering.”
And in Argentina the Macri government is more pro-Israel than its predecessor.
Also, Brazil’s economy is ranked ninth largest in the world by nominal GDP and seventh largest by purchasing power parity. The country offers an important market for Israeli goods and services. The two countries have also fostered strong military cooperation. And Brazil is home to a large Jewish community of about 120,000.
Therefore, it is still not too late to defuse the situation.
The Foreign Ministry workers’ union could issue a statement demanding that a career diplomat be appointed to Brazil. Due to the country’s importance – it could be argued – having a diplomat who speaks fluent Portuguese is absolutely essential. In parallel, the Foreign Ministry could support the appointment of Dayan to an equally important post – like the consul-general in Los Angeles. And for good measure, Dayan could issue a statement that he respects the Foreign Ministry’s decision and is interested in being appointed to a high-level diplomatic position where he can best bring to bear his unique skills. All these points are legitimate and true. Making them public would transform the Brazilian rejection into a move that is in Israel’s favor and that is supported by the Foreign Ministry.
Our leaders must not allow the spat with Brazil over Dayan’s appointment to hurt Israel’s core interests. Israel can’t afford to leave the mission in Brasilia without a high-caliber diplomat. There might still be a diplomatic way of protecting Israel’s interests while saving face.