Photo Credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, with Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro at Kehillat Yaakov synagogue in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Dec 28 2018

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time getting started with meetings after arriving on the first visit ever by an Israeli prime minister to Brazil.

By Friday afternoon he was already meeting privately with President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, followed by an expanded meeting which also included Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernest Araujo, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva, Finance Minister Paulo Guedes and Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro – the President-elect’s son.

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The next 36 hours were packed with meetings, honors, kudos and compliments — given and received — but the one topic that was avoided, at least publicly, was that of relocating Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem. Despite initial enthusiasm and vows by Bolsonaro to make it happen, followups by Arab nations with threats and promises and warnings of a massive economic boycott seems to have had a sobering effect on the presidential psyche. Whether or not the move will still take place is anyone’s guess, but even if it does happen it is clear that much more thought and strategic planning will go into that event than Bolsonaro may have realized when he first pledged the relocation.

The president-elect readily accepted an invitation from Netanyahu to visit Israel, however, saying he would arrive by March. The two men agreed to tight – inter alia – economic, security, water management, agricultural and technological cooperation, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.

Following the meeting, awarded Netanyahu Brazil’s highest and most important national award for high-ranking guests, which is awarded to prominent and influential people and was previously granted to former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II.

In response, during his remarks, Netanyahu said, “Israel is the Promised Land; Brazil is the land of promise. And you’ve been given the stewardship of this country to realize that promise,” he told Bolsonaro.

He added, however, “This is also a sad day. We bid farewell to one of our literary giants, Amos Oz. We will always remember his contribution to Hebrew literature and the Hebrew language.”

The prime minister and his wife together with the president-elect attended a Jewish community event later in the afternoon at the Kehillat Yaakov synagogue in Rio de Janeiro.

In his remarks at the synagogue, Netanyahu said, “We are on a historic visit. There is a cumulative, breakthrough change, from the situation in which Israel was a small country, inward looking, fighting for its existence against boycotts and isolation.

“This is a fundamental thing that we have been working on, and which I am leading, very methodically and orderly, for over 20 years. We are taking the genius latent in our people and translating it into strength of our state.

“President Bolsonaro said in the synagogue today: ‘I come to learn from you what you are doing.’ They have so little and do so much. We have so much, and have done so little…. I remember that the gap between us and Brazil was so great and today it is not. It is great in the sense that, as President Bolsonaro said: ‘I want to close the gap, also by you. Not just, but to close the gap with an alliance.’ I think that this is a certificate of honor for the State of Israel and it says very much.”

Netanyahu is slated to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration on January 1 before returning to Israel.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.