RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro brought an Israeli flag to a rally on Sunday that called for shutting down the country’s Supreme Court and Congress. Leading Brazilian Jewish organizations say that including the flag sends a false message about the Jewish community’s feelings toward the president, who has come under fire for a political scandal and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
While leaving the presidential palace to address some 5,000 right-wing supporters from afar, Bolsonaro was seen next to an Israeli flag and an American flag. The protesters were pushing for Bolsonaro to disband the country’s courts and return to a state of authoritarian rule.
Bolsonaro had recently fired the federal police chief, prompting his justice minister to resign and accuse Bolsonaro of interfering in corruption investigations. The Supreme Court then blocked Bolsonaro’s pick for a new police chief.
“Enough interference. We’re not allowing any more interference. Our patience is over,” Bolsonaro said at the rally.
Bolsonaro, a right-wing strongman who is a passionate advocate of Israel and counts on massive Evangelical Christian support, said the protest called for the “independence of the powers and defense of democracy and freedom.” Brazil’s Jewish community was split about Bolsonaro’s candidacy in 2018.
“The constant use of the Israeli flag can convey a wrong message about the pluralistic composition of the Brazilian Jewish community and misrepresent our position regarding the agenda of the protesters and the government,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, Brazil’s umbrella Jewish organization, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“The Israeli flag in a demonstration against democracy does not represent Jewish values! No more kidnapping national symbols,” read a note released by the leftist Brazilian group Jews for Democracy.
Others were confused.
“The presence of flags from other countries in a rally of exclusively Brazilian issues did not make sense. That’s for specific times such as common events, visits by authorities and special guests,” said Abraham Goldstein, president of B’nai B’rith in Brazil.
Last year, Bolsonaro said that Nazism was a leftist movement, earning a rebuke from Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.
“The Jewish reaction is natural,” congresswoman Joice Hasselmann wrote on Instagram, commenting on the response to Sunday’s rally and referencing the Yad Vashem response.