FM Katz: A 'historic moment' in bilateral relations

Brazil opens trade office in Jerusalem, hailed as harbinger of embassy move

‘We’re not going to do something extraordinary. We’re doing a normal thing — to recognize your capital,’ declares Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son and a senior MP

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, Brazilian federal deputy and son of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, at an event opening the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency in Jerusalem, December 15, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Eduardo Bolsonaro, Brazilian federal deputy and son of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, at an event opening the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency in Jerusalem, December 15, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Brazil on Sunday officially opened a trade office in Jerusalem, a move that senior officials said was a harbinger of the South American country moving its embassy to the Israeli capital next year.

At the event, Eduardo Bolsonaro, a senior lawmaker and the son of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, reiterated his government’s pledge to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem soon.

“You have political arguments, you have historical arguments. You have a bunch of arguments to recognize that Jerusalem is your capital. So we’re not going to do something extraordinary. We’re doing a normal thing — to recognize your capital,” he said.

Just like the Brazilian government can determine what its country’s capital is, so Israel’s government can decide what city it wants as its capital, he added. “Because we do believe that whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and whoever curses Israel will be cursed,” he added, paraphrasing a Biblical verse.

Bolsonaro, who chairs the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee of the Brazilian National Congress’ Chamber of Deputies, said he had spoken to his father about moving the embassy.

“He told me that for sure — it’s a commitment — he’s going to move the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said. “If we do not move the embassy to Jerusalem, if the terrorists think that they can threaten us, it will be a shame on us. If you want to avoid a terrorist attack, you have to show power.”

Brazil is currently still studying the implications of transferring its embassy to Jerusalem, Bolsonaro said, stressing that when the relocation happens, it should inspire other Latin American nations to follow suit.

“If we’re doing this move in a smart way, for sure other countries will be comfortable to do the same, and that’s what we expect,” he said, speaking in English.

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, known as Apex-Brasil, operates under the auspices of the country’s foreign ministry, but does not have diplomatic status. Three people — one Brazilian and two local hires — will work from the new Jerusalem office, located in the city’s Har Hotzvim tech park.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu at an event opening the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency in Jerusalem, December 15, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the opening ceremony in central Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel, underlined that the trade office that opened this week was “a part of President Bolsonaro’s commitment to open an embassy in Jerusalem next year, as we say, b’ezrat Hashem [God willing].”

“The Apex office can help Brazil and Israel realize the potential of cooperation between us. Israel is perhaps the most dynamic, innovation nation in the world — this is not what I say, but many others are saying it. The markets are saying it,” Netanyahu said.

“Brazil has an unbelievable potential. With its vast size, its diverse population, its universities, the talents of its people. And we think that if we merge the great potentials that our two countries have, we learn from each other unbelievably. And this office, Apex, will actually be the spearhead of this vital development,” he added.

After the event, Bolsonaro told Netanyahu that Brazil is “committed to moving the embassy in 2020,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Later on Sunday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that Bolsonaro’s declaration “undoubtedly​ represent a historic moment in the Israel-Brazil bilateral relationship.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that the the commitment to move the embassy is reminiscent of the country’s “central role” in the passing of the so-called Partition Plan in November 1947, which led to Israel’s creation.

“The president of the UN General Assembly at the time was Brazilian Ambassador to the UN Oswaldo Aranha, who presided over the meeting and supported and heavily lobbied for the majority in favor of the resolution,” Katz said.

“It is my hope that the transfer of the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem in 2020 will serve as an example to other countries from the region and from around the world and will instigate the transfer of all the foreign embassies in Israel to our capital.”

In March, during a visit of President Jair Bolsonaro to Israel, Brazil’s foreign ministry in a statement acknowledged that “Jerusalem has been inseparable of the identity of the Jewish people for over three millennia and has become the political heart of the modern and thriving State of Israel,” but stopped short of recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

During his trip to Israel, Bolsonaro announced the opening of the office in the city “to promote trade, investment, technology and innovation.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of a Honduran trade office in Jerusalem, on September 1, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Honduras, which on September 1 opened a trade mission in Jerusalem, is expected to transfer its embassy to the city in the coming weeks, Israeli officials said recently. The two countries are engaged in “advanced talks about the opening soon of an Israeli embassy in the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, and about the transfer of Honduran embassy to Jerusalem,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said last month.

Israeli officials said that despite the Foreign Ministry’s severe budgetary restraints, funds have been secured to open an embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Currently, the Honduran embassy is located in Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv. It is expected to move to Jerusalem “in the next few weeks,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At the inauguration of the Honduran trade mission, located inside the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce on 10 Hillel Street, President Juan Orlando Hernandez said the office was merely a “first step,” adding that the second step — opening an embassy — would follow in the coming months.

So far, only the United States and Guatemala have moved their embassies to the capital. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Australia have trade offices in the city, with varying diplomatic status. Slovakia and Ukraine have pledged to open similar missions in Jerusalem as well.

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