Bol­sonaro Is­rael em­bassy move: High-risk mix of re­li­gion, pol­i­tics

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

RIO DE JANEIRO: In an­nounc­ing his in­ten­tion to move Brazil’s em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem, Pres­i­den­t­elect Jair Bol­sonaro may please his evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian sup­port base, but would break with a half cen­tury of diplo­macy. In fol­low­ing the lead of his US coun­ter­part Don­ald Trump, the in­com­ing pres­i­dent of Latin Amer­ica’s big­gest coun­try would not only iso­late the coun­try di­plo­mat­i­cally but also run the risk of pro­vok­ing com­mer­cial re­tal­i­a­tion from Arab states, some of which are ma­jor im­porters of Brazil­ian meat.

“Brazil has been sup­port­ing a two-state so­lu­tion for Is­rael and Pales­tine for more than 50 years and this de­ci­sion could throw all those ef­forts into the bin,” said Guil­herme Casaroes, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion think-tank. Is­rael’s an­nex­a­tion of east Jerusalem fol­low­ing the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria and Jor­dan, has never been in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized.

The United Na­tions main­tains an am­bigu­ous po­si­tion over any even­tual fi­nal sta­tus for the sa­cred city - cher­ished by the three ma­jor Abra­hamic reli­gions - but a 1947 res­o­lu­tion says it should be­come a “cor­pus sep­a­ra­tum”, run in­de­pen­dently of ei­ther Is­rael or the Pales­tini­ans. To that end, no em­bassies should be es­tab­lished there un­til a so­lu­tion has been agreed upon by both sides.

That was the line fol­lowed by Brasilia un­til Bol­sonaro won a sec­ond-round run-off elec­tion against left­ist can­di­date Fer­nando Had­dad on Oc­to­ber 28. He will be in­au­gu­rated as Brazil’s pres­i­dent on Jan 1.

“For me, it’s just about re­spect­ing the de­ci­sions of a sov­er­eign na­tion,” Bol­sonaro said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view on Mon­day. How­ever, he per­formed an al­most Trumpian about-turn on Tues­day by in­sist­ing that “it hasn’t been de­cided yet”. Were he to aban­don that con­tro­ver­sial plan, he would risk alien­at­ing the re­li­gious sup­port that helped pro­pel the far-right Bol­sonaro to a com­mand­ing vic­tory with 55 per­cent of the vote. And for them, the sta­tus of Jerusalem is sacro­sanct. The most con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cals see Is­rael as “the cen­ter of all his­tory”, a sort of ideal, to which “there is an at­tach­ment and a need to de­fend Is­rael as a cho­sen peo­ple,” said Ronilso Pacheco, a the­o­log­i­cal re­searcher at Rio de Janeiro’s PUC Catholic Univer­sity. “That’s an ex­tremely lit­eral read­ing of the Bible with­out tak­ing into ac­count con­text, his­tory.”

Brazil­ian evan­gel­i­cals fol­low Chris­tian Zion­ism, the be­lief that the re­turn of the Jews to the Holy Land in 1948 with the es­tab­lish­ment of the state of Is­rael was in ac­cor­dance with a bib­li­cal prophecy an­nounc­ing the re­turn of the Mes­siah. Although born into a Catholic fam­ily, Bol­sonaro mar­ried an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian and went to Is­rael in 2016 to be bap­tized in the River Jor­dan by a pas­tor.

How­ever, piety is not the only rea­son for Bol­sonaro to move the em­bassy, much to the de­light of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. “On top of the sym­bolic value for evan­gel­i­cals, this mea­sure shows a de­sire to break from a tra­di­tional for­eign pol­icy based on mul­ti­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships,” said Mon­ica Herz, pro­fes­sor at PUC’s in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions in­sti­tute. For her, fol­low­ing in Trump’s foot­steps sug­gests Brazil is “align­ing it­self with the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, some­thing we didn’t even do dur­ing the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship”.

A for­mer army parachutist, Bol­sonaro has made no se­cret of his ad­mi­ra­tion for Brazil’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, which ruled from 1964-85. His Is­raeli over­tures have a sec­ondary mo­ti­va­tion as Bol­sonaro is a fan of Is­raeli’s ad­vanced mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy. His son, Flavio and new­ly­elected Rio gov­er­nor, Wil­son Witzel, are due shortly to travel to Is­rael to ne­go­ti­ate the pur­chase of at­tack drones which could sub­se­quently be used by se­cu­rity forces in the fight against drug-traf­fick­ers. Casaroes, though, be­lieves “Brazil could get closer to the US and Is­rael with­out trans­fer­ring its em­bassy”.

Ri­cardo Fer­raco, a mem­ber of the ex­ter­nal re­la­tions com­mis­sion in Brazil’s congress, said re­cently that he felt Bol­sonaro had been too quick to make his prom­ise, “with­out re­flect­ing on the con­se­quences”. Mean­while, the Arab Brazil­ian cham­ber of com­merce has al­ready ex­pressed its con­cern given Brazil is the big­gest pro­ducer in the world of ha­lal meat, much of which is ex­ported to Arab coun­tries. The Pales­tinian en­voy to Brazil, Ibrahim Alzeben, said on Mon­day that he hoped Bol­sonaro had merely been elec­tion­eer­ing and that the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment would “main­tain Brazil’s tra­di­tional po­si­tion”. — AFP


RA­MAL­LAH: Pales­tini­ans de­liver their com­plaints to the Brazil­ian deputy con­sul An­dre Cortez as they demon­strate against the Brazil­ian’s pres­i­dent-elect’s de­ci­sion to move Brazil’s em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem out­side the Brazil­ian Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Of­fice yes­ter­day.

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