(December 30, 2018 / JNS) The crowds of people waving Brazilian flags to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are just one reason for excitement regarding a new era with South America. That president-elect Jair Bolsonaro bestowed Netanyahu—the first foreign leader to officially visit the country since Bolsonaro’s election—with his country’s highest honor is also just part of the story.
The main reason we should be rubbing our eyes in awe is the realization of the Brazilian dream.
Until a few months ago, this gigantic country, with a population of more than 200 million people and the world’s eighth-largest economy, was the unattainable object for Israeli diplomacy. Due to the burgeoning economies of China, India and Brazil, which have made them new powers on the global stage, Israeli officials deemed it imperative for Israel to gain a foothold in those countries. It has long since established footholds in China and India, among other reasons because of Netanyahu’s rare ability to forge relations and market Israel.
Brazil, meanwhile, remained impenetrable.
Due to its Catholic background, traditionally Socialist governments and strong Arab influence, Brazil was not only tough on Israel, but also worked to derail Israel’s diplomatic efforts throughout Latin America. Less than a year ago, then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff actually threatened Paraguay’s previous president not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
And this is not to mention the recognition of a Palestinian state or supporting anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations.
However, a historic about-face has since occurred. Internal processes in Brazil led to the almost miraculous rise to power of the right-wing, conservative Bolsonaro family. Overnight, Brazil changed course in a manner no one could have imagined. In a flash, this hostile country became a supporter of the Jewish state. This is black turning to white, foe to friend. Brazil’s gates have opened wide; all that remains is to translate this opportunity into practical steps.
During his joint press conference with Netanyahu, it was disappointing that Bolsonaro sidestepped the issue of relocating the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem, and we can only hope this is not the final word. In any case, we cannot help but see the new, conservative, pro-Israel world emerging around us.
It is a new and surprising world, which offers a golden opportunity to improve on all aspects of our foreign relations.
Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.