RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — The mayor-elect of Rio de Janeiro, a prominent evangelical leader, reportedly will be going to Israel to celebrate his victory.
Marcelo Crivella, who was elected Sunday, will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat next week, several Brazilian media outlets reported, citing the mayor-elect himself as the source. However, the information has not been confirmed by Israeli officials.
“Marcelo Crivella, who has been to Israel nearly 35 times, is a great friend of the Jewish community and the State of Israel,” Israel’s Rio-based honorary consul Osias Wurman, a former president of Rio’s Jewish federation, told JTA. “I hope he will strengthen a lot of the cooperation between Rio and the State of Israel, in particular in the areas of security, culture and technology.”
Brazil’s most influential weekly magazine reported Monday that the Jewish vote from one of Rio’s wealthiest neighborhoods was key in electing Crivella. The massive support could have been a reaction to Crivella’s opponent’s party members, who recently referred to the late Israeli President Shimon Peres as an “ideologue of terrorism” and, a year ago, burned the Israeli flag in public.
Crivella easily beat his far-leftist opponent Marcelo Freixo with 59 percent of the vote in the municipal runoff election in Brazil’s second largest city.
In January, when Brazil rejected Israel’s choice of a former settler leader as ambassador to Brasilia, Crivella said it conveyed a pro-boycott message. The position has since remained vacant.
“Rejecting the ambassador can convey a message that Brazil supports BDS,” Crivella wrote in an op-ed published in the influential Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, referring to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “Leaving Israel without an ambassador won’t help anyone.”
Crivella called Dani Dayan “a prepared diplomat selected legitimately by a friendly country. The fact that he defends settlements in the West Bank is a weak motive for such discourtesy and so much political inability.”
In his article, Crivella noted the deep ties between Brazil and Israel, recalling that Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha presided over the United Nations session that created the State of Israel in 1948.
In November, the senator joined some 1,500 demonstrators at a pro-Israel rally in Rio de Janeiro. Days before, during a major TV show, he had called for “all friends of Israel” to attend the rally.
Crivella is a nephew of Edir Macedo, founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God some 40 years ago. He also has played a pivotal role in the church gathering some 5.2 million followers at 13,000 temples across Brazil and worldwide. The church owns the second-largest TV station in Brazil, as well as a broad conglomerate of newspapers and radio stations.
By assuming the chair of mayor of Rio on Jan. 1, Crivella will interrupt his second eight-year term in the Senate.
Brazil, which has the world’s largest Catholic population — some 65 percent of its population of 204 million — is home to some 120,000 Jews.