Jair Bolsonaro, the fascist who will probably be elected president of Brazil in the second election round this Sunday, is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel who says he will follow Donald Trump’s example and move his nation’s embassy there from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Bolsonaro’s extreme views have divided Brazil’s 120,000-strong Jewish community, the 9th-largest in the world.
Mac Margolis is an American writer who has reported from Brazil for more than 3 decades, and is today one of that country’s leading journalists. In an e-mail message, he pointed to a significant signal Bolsonaro gave when he was stabbed last month at a campaign rally. After the attack, a surgical team from the Syrian Lebanese Hospital flew first to examine him. “But to everyone’s surprise,” Margolis explained, “he later dismissed them, and transferred to the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein.” Margolis concluded, “Both are top-line clinics, but the buzz is that his affinity for Israel spoke louder.”
Em Israel 90% prestam o serviço militar (homens e mulheres) e a arma passa a ser um direito do cidadão. pic.twitter.com/xArkpIRAn5
— Jair Bolsonaro 1️⃣7️⃣ (@jairbolsonaro) May 13, 2016
Tweet by Jair Bolsonaro that says, “In Israel 90% preform military service (men and women) and the weapon becomes a citizen’s right.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s alarming fascist-sounding rhetoric, some leading members of Brazil’s Jewish community excuse and even endorse him — in part because he is so pro-Israel. Ary Bergher, the president of the Jewish Federation in Rio de Janeiro, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency:
[Bolsonaro’s] victory in the first round made us very joyful and hopeful due to his friendship, love and bonds not only with the State of Israel but with the whole Jewish people. He will be a great president by having Jewish ethics and morals as his pillars.
Some Brazilian Jews are also happy that Bolsonaro will close the Palestinian Embassy in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, and there are reports his first official overseas trip will be to Israel.
But by no means are all Brazil’s Jews supporting him. Back in 2017, the Hebraica Club in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, disinvited him from speaking after 3800 leftist activists protested in an online petition. Only then did the Rio de Janeiro Hebraica Club ask him to talk — where he was greeted by loud protests:
Meanwhile, outside the club, nearly 150 mostly Jewish activists — including many teens and 20-somethings wearing the blue uniform of the Hashomer Hatszair Jewish youth movement — protested Bolsonaro’s appearance. The crowd yelled ‘shameless Jews’ and ‘fascist Jews’ in unison at the club gate…
Michel Gherman, a historian who works in both Brazil and Israel, said that “this level of secession and dispute [within the Jewish community] is unprecedented since the 1950s.”