Stabbing of Brazil’s front-running presidential candidate sparks reports of a rivalry between Jewish and Arab hospitals

Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro said recently he will close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia and that his first international trip, if elected, will be to Israel. (Udo Kurt)

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — The front-runner in Brazil’s presidential race, who is openly pro-Israel, was stabbed and seriously injured during a street rally, and was transferred to a Jewish hospital after declining treatment at a facility founded by Arabs.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right lawmaker who many refer to as “Brazil’s Trump,” was stabbed in the stomach on Thursday while campaigning in Juiz de Fora, in southeast Brazil. The alleged assailant told police he was “on a mission from God.”

The attack of the 63-year-old conservative Christian candidate, a Rio de Janeiro state representative in Congress, was captured on cellphone videos.

Bolsonaro was transferred to Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, where doctors said he will spend at least a week, and could take weeks to recover from life-threatening injuries. The election’s first round is scheduled for Oct. 7.

The fact that Bolsonaro, who recently announced that he would move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, refused treatment at the country’s elite Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, founded by immigrants in the 1920s, suggested a feud between the hospitals and led to conspiracy theories in social media.

“This time the Syrian-Lebanese — known as ‘the hospital of the powerful’ — lost the battle to its rival, the Albert Einstein,” Brazil’s most influential newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported.

The most radical among Bolsonaro’s nearly 10 million followers on social media suggested his life would be at risk if moved from the city of Juiz de Fora to receive medical treatment “by the hands of Arab and Muslim doctors,” adding that at the Jewish institution, the Israel’s Mossad would be able to protect him.

“Some news just is not true,” Rio Jewish federation’s newly elected president, Ary Bergher, told JTA. “We vigorously repudiate those who, in a frivolous way, want to import international conflicts into Brazilian society.

“Brazilian Arabs and Jews use both Albert Einstein and Syrian-Lebanese hospitals with total confidence and cordiality. Brazil is proud of cutting-edge medicine” at both hospitals, he said.

“There is no kind of antagonism or animosity between the Brazilian Jewish community and our cousins of the Brazilian Arab community,” the federation president said.

“A chartered flight sent from the Syrian-Lebanese [hospital] landed in Juiz de Fora. The Bolsonaros thanked [the hospital] for the offer, but they had other plans. The lawmaker’s close relations with part of the Jewish community, which runs the Einstein, had a heavier weight,” Folha de S. Paulo reported. “Advised by businessman Fabio Wajngarten, Bolsonaro’s supporter and a known figure in the Jewish community, the family chose the Einstein.”

While some of Bolsonaro’s critics initially suggested that the stabbing was staged, his supporters said the attacker was affiliated with PSOL, Brazil’s far-left political party with an openly anti-Israel platform, including a member who burned the Israeli flag in public several years ago.

In a video recorded from his hospital bed and released Friday, Bolsonaro thanked medical staff and described the attack.

“All of us have a mission here on earth. I prepared myself for a moment like this, because you run risks,” he said.

He lamented missing the Sept. 7 Independence Day parade in Rio and quoted his campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything and God above everyone.”

In another video recorded prior to the attack, Bolsonaro wished “Shanah Tovah,” a Happy New Year, to the Jewish community.

Last month, he said he will close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia and that his first international trip, if elected, will be to the Jewish state.

“Is Palestine a country? Palestine is not a country, so there should be no embassy here. You do not negotiate with terrorists,” he said.

Bolsonaro said he will seek to broaden the dialogue with Israel, the United States and Europe.

The candidate has participated in a handful of television interviews in recent weeks, saying he has never been accused of corruption during his nearly 30-year political career and also repeated he intends to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.

Like evangelical and deeply conservative politicians in the United States, Bolsonaro is divisive among Jewish voters, who tend to be socially liberal but want their representatives to be strongly pro-Israel.

“My heart is green, yellow, blue and white,” Bolsonaro told to an audience of 400 at the Hebraica club in Rio in 2017 in a reference to the Israeli and Brazilian flags. He won big applause as he hailed the Jewish state for its power and social welfare system, saying it should inspire Latin America’s largest nation.

Bolsonaro’s passionate supporters usually refer to him by the nickname “Mito,” from the word myth or legend. Bolsonaro was the top vote-getter among 46 congress members elected from the area in 2014 and won his sixth consecutive term in 24 years. His three sons, also politicians, have been constantly photographed wearing T-shirts with messages in Hebrew.

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