Brazil, the Emerging Giant from South America, and its relationship with Israel.

‏It is no secret that Brazil is the largest and most important country in Latin America‏. With an area of over 8 million square km and a population of over‏ 200‏ million people‏, ‏ Brazil is expected to become the fifth biggest economy in ‏ 2050, with a projected GDP of 7 trillion USD (doubling its current GDP of 3.5 trillion USD)[1]. Without a doubt, this Latin American country is becoming a rising global‏ force, being a part of the‏ BRICS‏ Group‏ (together with China‏,‏ India‏,‏ Russia, and South Africa) is a strong sign of this.

Rio de Janeiro Downtown
Credit: Victor Tarcitano / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Since 2003 ‏Brazil has experienced one of the greatest revolutions in its history‏. During that year, Luis Inácio Lula de Silva‏, ‏ the leader of the local Workers’ Party, took power.‏ At the same time, a global rise in food prices worldwide (especially of soybeans) provided the country with foreign currency. This income ‏allowed the government to conduct reforms and carry out social projects, which allowed halving the poverty rate and tripling the‏ GDP‏ during Lula´s two terms.[2]

Lula became a very popular and recognized leader, and he was able to choose his‏ successor‏, ‏Dilma‏ Rousseff, who‏ won the elections of ‏ 2010and was reelected in‏ 2015.

During the Lula and Rousseff governments, Brazil focused its foreign policies on its regional sphere, with a particular focus on the Mercosur (a Free Trade Area formed by Brazil‏,‏ Argentina‏,‏ Uruguay‏,‏ Paraguay‏ , and Venezuela) and UNASUR (a former regional body based in Ecuador composed of 12 countries). Due to their left-wing ideology, Brazil took a more aggressive approach toward the United States (while keeping the strong trade relations) and taking a more friendly attitude toward the “anti-imperialist” axis[3]. Regarding the relations with Israel, the bilateral relationship prospered with multiple Ministerial visits and robust trade relations.

However, the relationship had some low points. For example, during “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, Brazil criticized Israel for “disproportionate use of force” and recalled its ambassador to Israel in an exceptional measure. The federal representative of the Cristian Social Party at the time, Jair Bolsonaro, rejected the action and released a note to the press stating that “the majority of refined Brazilians… stand with the people of Israel and against terrorism, in favor of democracy, freedom, and respect for true human rights”.[4] Another well-remembered incident was the rejection of Danny Dayan as the appointed Ambassador of Israel to Brazil by the Rousseff administration, this as a result of Dayan’s ties to the Israeli Settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.[5]

Brazil also showed a pro-Iranian attitude during the discussions regarding Iran’s nuclear rights, calling the Western countries not to impose sanctions on Iran[6]. Even more so, in‏ 2010 Lula visited Tehran to persuade the leadership in Iran to reach an agreement, without success.[7] Finally, the deal was reached in 2015, by President Obama, in a measure that was highly criticized by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lula meeting with Ahmadinejad in Teheran in 2010
Credit:Ricardo Stuckert (ABr) / CC BY 3.0 BR (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)

Despite being reelected in 2015, the government of the Workers´ Party was about to end abruptly. In 2016 Rousseff lost some critical allies at the Congress, she was impeached and removed from the Presidency while being charged with administrative misconduct and disregard for the federal budget‏.[8]

This process, ‏ together with the Lava Jato corruption investigation that put Lula in prison (to learn more about this operation, I highly recommend watching the Netflix show: The Mechanism), caused a severe political crisis which brought the right-wing candidate; Jair Bolsonaro, to the Presidency of Brazil at the beginning of 2019.

Bolsonaro rose to power thanks to the local evangelic communities, who are traditionally pro-Israeli, and he made a sharp shift in Brazil’s foreign policy. He has a great relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who flew to Brasilia to the inauguration ceremony and was treated with the highest honors.‏ Bolsonaro returned the visit with a trip to Israel in March‏ 2019, where he promised the opening of a business office in Jerusalem, opened in December 2019. During the ceremony, Eduardo Bolsonaro, the President’s son, promised Netanyahu that the Brazilian embassy would be transferred from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem soon.[9]

Netanyahu and Bolsonaro, in Tel Aviv Airport, March 2019
Credit: Alan Santos/PR / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

In the trade sector, the new Presidency had a positive effect, which can be called the ¨Bolsonaro effect¨. The Minister of Economy in Israel published the exportation data regarding the first half of 2019. During this period, the country’s exports to Brazil rose by 11% when compared year over year, from 530 Million USD to 592 Million USD, constituting the 9th most significant destination for Israeli exports.[10] Several Israel companies are established in Brazil, and there is enormous interest from both sides to deepen the commercial relations. For example, the Israel Innovation Authority launched in 2019 an R&D project with a total investment of 7.5 Million USD[11]. Another initiative, is ScaleUpinBrazil, a program between Israel and Brazil aimed at attracting Israeli companies to enter and conduct their business in the Latin American country.[12] The recently signed accords for cooperation in the areas of security, water, clean technology, space, and more, assure a bright future for the relations of both countries

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