Netanyahu’s embrace of recently-elected far-right Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is the latest slap in the face offered by the Prime Minister to the Diaspora. After flirting with nationalist politicians the likes of Trump, Duterte, Salvini, Narendra Modi, Kurz and Orban, Bibi’s latest bromance with Bolsonaro marks a new low.
For anyone who engages in even the most casual international news-browsing, the Latin American leader is known mainly for three things: his far-right politics, his open racism and homophobia, and his disgraceful treatment of women. While either one of these should be immediately disqualifying, in the face of realpolitik we’ve come to inhibit ethical expectations of our political leaders, in favor of pragmatism.
Yet even with the slightest of expectations, Bolsonaro should put us all at great unease.
For Bolsonaro, democracy is overrated. Already back in the late 90’s he expressed open disregard for the political system and Congress in particular, proposed coups and even praised the brutal military dictatorship that ruled over Brazil, certain that the majority of Brazilians would cheer him on. Rather than fade out, such outbursts intensified, and at a rally in São Paulo as recent as October 21st, the then-candidate vowed to imprison or exile his political opponents once in office.
As is often the case, Bolsonaro’s disregard for democratic processes comes hand in hand with far-right politics – so much so that his name rarely appears anywhere without the words far-right president attached (as a simple google search will show). “We are the majority. We are the real Brazil. Together, we will build a new nation…These red [left-wing] criminals will be banished from our homeland. Either they go overseas, or they go to jail.”
But perhaps there has been nothing more jarring, in today’s environment than Bolsonaro’s despicable treatment of women and gender and sexual minorities. He described having a female child as a “weakness,” and has said he would not treat or pay women the same as men in the workplace. His declaration to female lawmaker that “[I] would not rape you because you are not worthy of it.” has made the internet rounds along such statements as “[I’d] rather have a son who is an addict than a son who is gay,” and that he was “proud to be homophobic.”
These are just few of many instances through which Bolsonaro has made his name known to the world – and what’s more, he wears them proudly on his far-right sleeve. This begs the question:
Why does Netanyahu embrace the Brazilian president?
The answer is simple, but wrong. After 16 years of left-wing rule and tense relations with the Jewish State, the prospect of a pro-Israel leader that rallies the country’s large evangelical electorate is no small thing. However, in sacrificing principle and giving cover to such questionable figures as Bolsonaro in expectation of their allyship, the Israeli government loses the moral high-ground to claim that allyship in the first place. And while such interpretations will often be deemed naive – I argue it would be all the more naive to expect long-term loyalty from a bigoted, misogynistic autocrat. Look no further than the glorified US Embassy move to Jerusalem. It’s been less than a year since, and the US Administration’s less-than-ceremonious announcement of the Syria retreat leaves Israel naked as a jaybird.
All this aside – Netanyahu’s love of Bolsonaro is a slap in the face to the Diaspora
In the notorious Nation-State Law, Israel declared its commitment to the safety of the global Jewish community. Well, newsflash: the Jewish people in the Diaspora are fighting far-right nationalists all over the place. As such, it is only the more deplorable to see Israel searching the company of populists and xenophobes that stand against the very values, rights and protections that Diaspora communities fight for daily in their respective countries. As Goldsmiths College professor, David Hirsh puts it:
Sooner or later Israel is going to have to recognise that a Jew might be allowed to hang out with the fascistic gang, as a kind of pet […] but that gang is not his friend and he is not acceptable as a member.
More importantly, nor should a Jew want to be.