Brazil’s president visited the Western Wall on Monday escorted by Israel’s prime minister in what may be seen as tacit recognition of the Israeli sovereignty over that part of Jerusalem’s Old City.
“We are here in this sacred place, where my soul feels deeply moved by the faith,” Jair Bolsonaro said. “This is the base of everything if we want to think about peace to our peoples.”
The ardently pro-Israel Christian leader and right-wing populist, whose four-day visit to the Jewish state began Sunday, became the first head of state to tour the most sacred place of Judaism at the side of an Israeli prime minister. Protocol usually dictates that visits by heads of state to the site in the Old City are treated as private affairs. In 2017, for example, President Donald Trump treated his visit to the site as a private one.
Less than two weeks before Israel’s elections, Netanyahu was eager to be seen in the company of a world leader who has said he is prepared to move his embassy to Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brazilian President @JairBolsonaro visited the Western Wall plaza and placed a note in the Wall. Afterwards, the leaders toured the Western Wall tunnels.https://t.co/fnU5K64KUI pic.twitter.com/kGplVD5HmS
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 1, 2019
“We’re visited by the great leader of the world. Israel is becoming a central power. Jerusalem is the centre of the world. Welcome, my good friend,” Netanyahu said.
On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister greeted Bolsonaro as he stepped off his airplane, which was seen as a special deference. He also made room on his agenda to be with the Brazilian president at six events.
Bolsonaro opened his first speech by saying “Ani ohev et Israel,” Hebrew for “I love Israel.” He signed six bilateral agreements and announced a new Brazilian “business office” to be opened in Jerusalem.
“I hope that is a first step toward the opening, in time, of the Brazilian Embassy in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu declared in reference to Bolsonaro’s campaign pledge to transfer the embassy.
Like evangelical and deeply conservative politicians in the United States, Bolsonaro is divisive among Jewish voters, who tend to be socially liberal but want their representatives to be strongly pro-Israel.
Before his election, he was stabbed in the stomach in Juiz de Fora during a rally. The attacker told the police he was “on a mission from God.”
In the wake of the stabbing, Bolsonaro refused treatment at an Arab hospital commonly chosen by the country’s senior politicians, and was transferred to Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo.
However the Jewish federation’s president sought to reduce tensions, saying: “Brazilian Arabs and Jews use both Albert Einstein and Syrian-Lebanese hospitals with total confidence and cordiality.
“There is no kind of antagonism or animosity between the Brazilian Jewish community and our cousins of the Brazilian Arab community”.
Bolsonaro has caused controversy with many of his views in the past, including outspoken opposition to LGBT rights and abortion, as well as being a critic of environmental regulation and drug liberalisation.
He has also voiced his support for the previous military dictatorship and claimed that the use of torture was “legitimate practice”, while having been accused of racism and misogyny also.