Netanyahu pledges to attend inauguration of Brazil’s new right-wing president


RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Israel’s prime minister said he will attend the New Year’s Day inauguration ceremony for Brazil’s newly elected president.

Benjamin Netanyahu told Jair Bolsonaro in a congratulatory telephone conversation on Monday about his intention to greet him in Brasilia, Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported. The Israeli media on Wednesday confirmed the prime minister’s intention to travel to Brazil, citing an official in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Brazilian right-wing lawmaker is a passionate admirer of Israel and has vowed to transfer the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Dubbed “Brazil’s Trump,” his candidacy divided Jewish voters.

“I am certain that your election will lead to a great friendship between our nations and to a strengthening of Israel-Brazil ties. I’m looking forward to your visit to Israel,” Netanyahu said, referring to Bolsonaro’s pledge to visit Israel on his first international trip as president.

The Israeli leader also tweeted a message of congratulations to Bolsonaro shortly after he was elected Sunday.

Netanyahu would become Israel’s first sitting prime minister to visit the country. When David Ben-Gurion traveled to Latin America’s largest nation in 1969, he was no longer head of the Israeli government.

On his Facebook account, the 63-year-old Bolsonaro recounted the conversation with Netanyahu, who said that the “bonds of friendship will be translated into agreements where our people will be the greatest beneficiaries.” according to Folha de S. Paulo.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement of his victory, Bolsonaro welcomed Israel’s ambassador in Brazil, Yossi Shelley, and honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, for a private meeting in his apartment.

“It was an excellent, open conversation between friends,” Shelley told the media about Bolsonaro and Netanyahu’s talk. “They met only once in Israel, 2 1/2 years ago, but it was possible to feel that there was a more than a courtesy conversation. It was possible to feel that there was a chemistry.”

In September 2017, Netanyahu spent several days in Latin America in a visit that included Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. It was the first visit of a sitting Israeli prime minister to the region, but its largest nation was left out due to the strong anti-Israeli sentiment that had been permeating Brazil’s political environment after nearly 15 years of far-left governments.

Fernando Lottenberg, the president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the nation’s umbrella Jewish organization, mentioned Bolsonaro’s election for the first time on Tuesday.

“Brazilians have elected a new president in free and fair elections. The process has split and polarized the Brazilian society, including our very diverse Jewish community,” he told JTA. “Now is time to reunite, based on our Jewish and democratic values of justice and tolerance.

“Bolsonaro has indicated he will be a strong supporter of Brazil-Israel relations, and we will work together on this goal.”

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