Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left on a historic six-day trip to Brazil, the first ever visit the largest Latin American country made by a sitting premier of the Jewish state. Besides boosting diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries, Netanyahu is scheduled to hold a one-to-one meeting with president-elect Jair Bolsonaro this Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
I am happy that we can open a new era between Israel and this superpower called Brazil, Netanyahu said on his departure.
Meetings with the new heads of the Brazilian foreign and defense ministries have been set, as well as with local Jewish community leaders where he has been tipped to attend a Shabbat synagogue service in Copacabana.
Brazil has a sizeable and influential Evangelical community, whose unwavering support for the State of Israel has likely contributed to Bolsonaro’s comments on his intentions to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Netanyahu will also meet with Christian Evangelical heads.
Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed “the Trump of the Tropics”, has previously said that Palestine is not a state and therefore there should be no embassy there. “Rest assured that you can depend on our vote in the UN on almost all the issues having to do with Israel,” he told an Israeli newspaper last month.
In evidence of Brazil’s shifting foreign policy, the country was one of 87 states that supported a US-proposed UN General Assembly resolution condemning Hamas for firing rockets at Israel. However, it failed to pass as it fell short of the needed two-third majority.
On the sidelines of the trip, Netanyahu will convene with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is representing Washington during the proceedings.
Netanyahu's son, Yair Netanyahu, stirred controversy on Thursday when it was announced he would also travel to Brazil on a separate flight. The Netanyahu family quickly released a statement assuring Israelis that his son's flight would be paid for privately, not with taxpayer funds.
“This visit will also bring important diplomatic news: a turnaround in Israel’s relations with the largest country in Latin America,” Netanyahu said during his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Step by step, methodically and persistently, we are turning Israel into a rising global power,” he added.
Emphasizing economic opportunities by forging deeper ties with the capital Brasilia, he said that “the opening of this gigantic market will create new jobs in Israel and will greatly help the Israeli economy”, in reference to the 210 million Brazilian population.
Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, last year made the first trip by a sitting Israeli prime minister to Latin America, visiting Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.
He has sought to expand Israel's diplomatic reach through technology and defense exports, and has worked to persuade more countries to vote in his country's favor at the United Nations, where it faces frequent criticism over its treatment of the Palestinians.