Analysis: Brazil’s Bolsonaro buoyed by Evangelical rise

A new era appears to have dawned for Israeli-Brazilian relations with the election of staunchly pro-Israel president-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Brazil’s newly elected, politically conservative President-elect Jair Bolsonaro recently confirmed his election promise to move his country’s embassy to Israel’s capital Jerusalem. Support for the Jewish State proved a potent magnet for voters throughout his campaign. 

The reason is not hard to find. Not only has the country been moving right, a reaction to the rise of violent crime and the ongoing political scandals of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s  government, but Brazil’s evangelical population has exploded. Bolsonaro defines himself as a devout Christian and his wife is an Evangelical. As The Atlantic reported in January, 2018:

“This rightward shift has been accompanied by a massive growth in the country’s Evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal churcheswhich constitute the greater part of Brazilian Protestantism. The percentage of those who identified as evangelicals in Brazil has grown from 6.6 percent in 1980, to 22.2 percent in 2010.”

Worth noting is that Evangelical Protestants in the United States have remained a bulwark of support for Israel for decades. 

To underline Israel’s importance to his supporters, president-elect Bolsonaro has vowed to include the Jewish state on his first presidential trip abroad. He gave his first foreign press interview to the right-leaning Israeli daily Israel Hayom.

Israel clearly welcomes the election results. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly congratulated the new president-elect on his victory, saying it was great news for relations between Brazil and Israel. “Looking forward to your visit in Israel,” he said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration in January 2019. This would be the first official state visit of an Israeli leader to South America’s largest country. Last year, Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.

Relations between Brazil and Israel had soured under Socialist President Lula de Silva, who on a 2010 visit to Israel said he dreams of a free Palestine and laid a wreath at the grave of terror chieftain Yasser Arafat. Those relations appear on the cusp of a 180◦.

Bolsonaro promises to reverse Brazil’s recognition of “Palestine.” He questioned Palestinian statehood during the campaign, and promised to downgrade its mission in the capital. “Is Palestine a country? Palestine is not a country, so there should be no embassy here,” he said in August.

And Eduardo Bolsonaro, the incoming president’s son, was quick to dispel rumors yesterday that his father may not move the embassy to Jerusalem as promised after Egypt reportedly cancelled a visit by Brazil’s foreign minister to Cairo in protest of the expected move. 

More pressure from Arab states is sure to come, but with a president who feels a special affinity with the Jewish State, Brazil will likely withstand them. It appears we are at at the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two countries.