Son of Lebanese immigrants, Brazil’s new president is friend to Jewish community

Michel Temer appoints longtime supporter of Brazilian Jews as new FM, Israel-born economist as head of central bank

Brazilian acting President Michel Temer is seen during the first ministers meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 13, 2016.  (EVARISTO SA / AFP)
Brazilian acting President Michel Temer is seen during the first ministers meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 13, 2016. (EVARISTO SA / AFP)

RIO DE JANEIRO — The elevation of a centrist vice president, Michel Temer, as Brazil’s president amid the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff is expected to result in a less strained relationship between Brazil and Israel, as well as its Jewish community, Jewish leaders said.

Temer, 75, the son of Lebanese immigrants, took the helm of Latin America’s largest nation on Thursday. He has been vice president since 2011.

Rousseff, who has served for 13 years, was suspended by the Brazilian Congress for 180 days as part of an ongoing impeachment process. She has rankled the Jewish community with what were seen as anti-Israel remarks, including calling Israel’s conflict with Hamas in 2014 “a massacre.”

Also, Brazil refused to accept the appointment of a former West Bank settler leader, Dani Dayan, as ambassador to Brasilia. In March, Dayan was named consul general in New York and no one has been named in his place.

Ilan Goldfajn (Courtesy)
Ilan Goldfajn (Courtesy)

“The interruption of a mandate is not something to celebrate, but the maturation of our democracy must be highlighted,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA. “We’ll keep an effective and open dialogue with the new government regarding national, international and community-related subjects.”

Among his first moves, Temer announced that Jose Serra, a longtime friend of the Jewish community, as the minister of foreign relations and Ilan Goldfajn, an esteemed economist who was born in Israel, as president of the Central Bank. Goldfajn, who is Jewish, will attempt to boost the world’s sixth largest economy in the throes of its biggest financial crisis in a century.

In January, in light of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Temer welcomed Lottenberg, who addressed him on the importance of the approval of Brazil’s first anti-terrorism law, which eventually passed in March.

Born in Sao Paulo and a Roman Catholic, Temer is the son of Maronite Lebanese immigrants from the town of Btaaboura in the Koura district, neighboring the capital Tripoli in northern Lebanon. His father fled to Brazil to escape famine and war in the 1920s.

Well-respected in Brazil, Temer heads Brazil’s largest party PMDB, which announced its rupture with the Rousseff government weeks ago, contributing to the impeachment process.

“You are more president of Lebanon than me as you have 8 million, we have 5 million,” Lebanon’s then-president, Michel Suleiman, told Temer in 2011, according to the Ya Libnan news service, referencing the large Lebanese community estimated at between 7 million and 10 million members in Brazil, or nearly 5 percent of the population.

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