A New Era in the Relationship Between Brazil and Israel

The recent visit of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Israel is a very important development.

For years, Brazil’s diplomacy took a rather hostile stance toward Israel. In fact, the government of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2003-2011) got very close to the Iranian regime and, in 2010, even tried to prevent the United States and the European Union from sanctioning Iran for its nuclear development program. Brazil was a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council at the time, and certainly helped Iran evade international sanctions, at least for a period of time.

Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, distanced herself a bit from the Iranian regime but kept the anti-Israel stance of her predecessor, voting against Israel in virtually all international forums.

The traditional anti-Israel posture of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) responds in part to a third-worldist worldview, deeply rooted in Latin America, which has sought to keep distance from the United States, and therefore from one of its main allies, the state of Israel. This worldview is based on a somewhat simplistic understanding of Latin American history, according to which the United States is to blame for most of the region’s problems. This ideological position has been disastrous for the region since it generated a culture of victimization and the distancing of many Latin American governments from the democracies of the West in order to get close to obscure regimes such as Iran, Russia and China, among others.

In the case of Brazil, Itamaraty’s anti-Israel posture had also to do with the desire of the Brazilian career diplomats to get Brazil elected as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, in the highly improbable case that the council gets reformed to include new permanent members one day. To achieve this, these diplomats thought it would be necessary to get the votes of the countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But the truth is that such a reform of the U.N. Security Council would be impossible to achieve without the agreement of the United States government, which would in turn need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, something extremely unlikely.

In any case, this anti-American and anti-Israel worldview seems to have received a major blow since Bolsonaro took power. His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in a recent tweet that the discriminatory treatment of Israel at the U.N. had been a Brazilian foreign policy tradition, and that this government is determined to break with this “spurious and unjust” tradition, in the same way it is breaking with the anti-American and third-worldist tradition that prevailed.

Bolsonaro’s campaign promise to move the Brazilian Embassy to Jerusalem will apparently have to wait. But his recent announcement about the opening of a trade office in Jerusalem and his visit to the Western Wall, in the company of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (an unprecedented gesture), are very strong signs of change.

The recent vote of Brazil at the U.N. Human Rights Council is yet another sign. For the first time in the history of the council, whose anti-Israel bias is both shameful and notorious, Brazil voted against two anti-Israel resolutions.

In November and December this year, Brazil’s new, warmer relationship with Israel will be put to a test. This is so because two important resolutions will be re-introduced at the U.N. General Assembly. As every year, member states will have to decide if they want to renew the funding and mandate authorization of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, the two entities that make up the most powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that exists under the U.N. roof.

In addition to demonizing the state of Israel in the name of the U.N., these entities promote the most extreme Palestinian positions as they question Israel’s very right to exist and advocate for the right of return of the more than five million people of Palestinian ancestry (who are still wrongly considered “refugees” by the U.N.) to the State of Israel. This radical stance is clearly against the two-state solution that the U.N. claims to support, as the mass migration of these people to Israel would mean the destruction of Israel as a majority-Jewish state, and the eventual creation of one Palestinian state “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.”

Brazil votes, year after year, in favor of the continued funding of these two entities, creating among the Palestinians the illusion that the U.N. will eventually grant them a state “from the river to the sea,” and directly discouraging genuine peace negotiations with Israel. A change in the way Brazil votes would undoubtedly be a breath of fresh air, and would send a positive message not only to other countries in the region but also to the entire world.

This post was originally published on the B’nai B’rith website.

About the Author
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
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