Brazil moving Israeli embassy to Jerusalem could hurt trade with Arab nations

World Today

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left center, is received by Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro at the military base Fort Copacabana, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. Despite earlier reports, Netanyahu plans to attend the inauguration of Bolsonaro on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019 in Brasilia. (Leo Correa/Pool Photo via AP)

The Arab League is urging Brazil not to move its embassy in Israel. New President Jair Bolsonaro is planning to relocate it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s a sign of closer ties with Israel, but it could cool Brazil’s relationships with other Middle Eastern countries.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral reports.

Brazil’s new president had already made clear his intention to make Israel Brazil’s top ally in the Middle East, and sealed it with the promise to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The decision was welcomed by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration. But it departs from Brazil’s tradition of neutrality in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and some fear it could work against the country’s economic interests.

Government data show that Brazil’s exports to Israel represent only two percent  of the country’s total exports to Middle Eastern and North African nations. Food, particularly meat products, are Brazil’s main export to the region and Egypt their largest customer.

The president of the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce sees a risk of long-term damage to commercial relations if the government pushes ahead with the embassy move.    

“Brazil’s trade with Arabic countries grew seven-fold over the last twenty years, and it was built on a relationship of trust,” Rubens Hannun, the president of the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce said. “With this move, we could lose the potential for growth and, over time, lose our relative share. But I don’t think it would happen in the short term.”

Evangelical Christians make up a key portion of President Bolsonaro’s support base, and this religious group – more than Brazilian Jews – is behind the push to move the embassy to Jerusalem. The reason is largely based on their interpretation of a biblical prophecy that says Jesus Christ will only return to Earth after Jerusalem is fully under Jewish rule.

The leader of the Evangelical Front at Sao Paulo’s State Assembly says pragmatic considerations, such as trade, should not be prioritized above scripture.

“If the state of Israel determines that Jerusalem is its capital city and the place to have the embassy, it’s my understanding that Brazil should not only think about itself and its conviction but about what is right,” Evangelical Front leader Carlos Cezar said. “I believe Jesus Christ will return one day and I believe his coming is getting closer. These are the signs.”

Marta Francisca Topel, director of the Jewish Studies Center at the University of Sao Paulo, says that for the most part, Brazilians do not support the move. 

“Among many in Brazil’s Jewish community, this is a cause for concern,” says Topel. “It is seen as an excessively daring step and it’s not clear how this could benefit Brazil in general and the Brazilian Jewish community in particular.”

Bolsonaro has stated that the question is not “if” Brazil will move its embassy to Jerusalem but “when” it will happen.  As yet, there’s been no outline of a timetable released from his office.