Brazil fires pro-Bolsonaro ambassador to Israel as part of wider shake-up

Report says newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has vowed more ‘balanced and traditional’ approach to Mideast conflict than pro-Israel predecessor

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, on March 31, 2019. (DEBBIE HILL/POOL/AFP)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, on March 31, 2019. (DEBBIE HILL/POOL/AFP)

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira has fired his country’s envoy to Israel, apparently as part of a wider shake-up following the ousting of president Jair Bolsonaro and the subsequent storming of parliament by his supporters.

Gerson Menandro Garcia de Freitas — a retired general — was appointed ambassador to Israel by Bolsonaro in 2020, reportedly with the aim of boosting security cooperation between the two countries.

Vieira also removed Brazil’s ambassador to the US and the consul-general in New York from their posts.

According to the Axios news site, newly inaugurated Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has vowed to take a more “balanced and traditional” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than his predecessor.

On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of far-right ex-president Bolsonaro stormed Congress, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court in what da Silva condemned as a “fascist” attack. Bolsonaro fled to Florida after he lost the election.

An outspoken supporter of Israel, Bolsonaro cultivated close ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was seen as one of his key international allies.

In this photo from December 28, 2018, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) is welcomed by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the Copacabana fort in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Leo Correa/Pool/AFP)

Last October, Netanyahu endorsed Bolsonaro in the Brazilian election, thanking him for “strengthening the alliance between the people of Israel and the people of Brazil.”

In one of his first moves after winning the election in 2018, Bolsonaro vowed to follow the lead of his political role model, then-US president Donald Trump, and move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Instead, however, the South American country opened a trade office in the Israeli capital in 2019.

Netanyahu sent his key ally and confident Yossi Shelley to be Israel’s ambassador in Brasilia. Shelley was widely ridiculed in 2019 for attempting to conceal the fact that lobster — one of the foods forbidden by Jewish dietary laws — was served during a meeting with Bolsonaro, by photoshopping a photo of the meal.

Earlier this week Shelley was confirmed as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office.

In 2009, da Silva warmly welcomed Iranian then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a notorious Holocaust denier whose regime persecuted minorities and critics, for a visit that drew international criticism.

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva smiles during his election certification ceremony at the Supreme Electoral Court in Brasilia, Brazil, December. 12, 2022. (Eraldo Peres/AP)

One year later, da Silva became Brazil’s first head of state to visit Israel since Brazilian Emperor Pedro II toured the Holy Land in 1876. However, he refused to visit Theodor Herzl’s grave, which was part of the itinerary for visiting foreign officials in honor of the 150th anniversary of the father of Zionism. Days after, he laid a wreath at Yasser Arafat’s grave in Ramallah. In the final month of his administration, his government officially recognized a Palestinian state.

However, da Silva has a broad coalition and is therefore thought unlikely to make any extreme moves relating to Israel.

JTA contributed to this report.

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