BRASILIA –- Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s first president to attend an Israel Independence Day ceremony this week.
An ardently pro-Israel Christian, the right-wing politician was honored at a Wednesday event marking Israel’s 71st anniversary at the Israeli embassy in Brasilia, where he received a commemorative plaque.
“What connects us to Israel is much more than what happens here today. Our friendship ties have never been stronger,” Bolsonaro declared.
“My first trip to Israel was chilling to my soul,” he added.
Several senior Brazilian politicians and officials attended the event, including the Brazilian Senate President Davi Alcolumbre and Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli.
“Brazil will always have open arms for the entire Brazilian and global Jewish community,” said Alcolumbre, who recently became the very first Jew elected to preside over the Brazilian Congress’s upper house.
Israel’s Ambassador Yossi Shelley highlighted the special relationship between both countries.
“Our governments are now even more aligned than before,” said Shelley, who earlier this month received Brazil’s highest national honor for non-citizens.
Bolsonaro honored Israel’s honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, for his 10 years in the position.
“Receiving it by a president’s hand was like a second prize,” Wurman told the Times of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has eagerly embraced the newly-elected Bolsonaro, who has found common ground with the prime minister’s right-wing government. His outspoken support for Israel has also played well to his evangelical base.
Netanyahu traveled to Brazil earlier in the year for Bolsonaro’s inauguration and the Brazilian leader then came to Israel in a high-profile visit just days before Israel’s elections, in a move many said was designed to bolster Netanyahu’s election showing.
During his visit to Israel, Bolsonaro announced Brazil’s decision to open a trade office in Jerusalem. Bolsonaro has previously pledged to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, but the relocation appears to be on hold.
Bolsonaro also visited the Western Wall accompanied by Netanyahu, becoming the first foreign head of state to visit the site together with a senior Israeli official.
Bolsonaro, a former army chief, has drawn condemnation for his disparaging remarks about gay people, women, indigenous groups and black people during his 28-year career as a Brazilian congressman.
Times of Israel staff, agencies contributed to this report.