"I Love Israel!" - Brazil's Firebrand President Lands in Tel Aviv

Sunday, March 31, 2019 |  Ryan Jones

For his first trip outside the Western hemisphere, new Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro chose to visit Israel, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a full honor guard on Sunday morning.

Bolsonaro is often referred to as the "Donald Trump of Latin America." He and the US leader have more in common than just right-wing ideology. Both are also chummy with Netanyahu, and appear committed to his reelection. Even if the US and Brazil maintain that they are not interferring in Israel's upcoming national election, the timing of Netanyahu being invited to the White House last week and Bolsonaro landing in Tel Aviv today cannot be ignored. Israelis go to the polls in less than two weeks, and Netanyahu wants to remind them that much of Israel's foreign policy successes in recent years rest on his personal relationships with leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro.

Would Trump have moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem or officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights if Netanyahu weren't at the helm? Maybe, but maybe not. It can be argued that the centrist and left-wing candidates vying for the premiership would have been far more apprehensive about making such requests of the Americans. Netanyahu, by contrast, is intimately familiar with the broad support, especially from Christians, that Israel enjoys in both the US and Brazil, and knows how to leverage that support to score major diplomatic achievements.

During Bolsonaro's brief two-day visit, Netanyahu is hoping to walk away with another prize by having the Brazilian leader announce the transfer of his nation's embassy to Jerusalem.

Bolsonaro promised to do as much during his election campaign last year, though most officials don't expect such an announcement to come during this visit. Instead, Brazilian sources suggested that Bolsonaro could announce the establishment of an official "business office" as a first step toward recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Whether or not he moves the embassy this week, there can be no doubt that, just like with Trump, Bolsonaro falls firmly on Israel's side in its battle against regional and global foes. "I love Israel!" the Brazilian leader said in Hebrew as he addressed those gathered to welcome him in Tel Aviv.

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