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Taking Cue from Trump, Brazil's Bolsonaro to Move Israel Embassy

The move from Tel Aviv is the latest controversial announcement by the former army captain, who has been implementing his conservative agenda since his election win.


Updated:November 2, 2018, 8:45 AM IST
Taking Cue from Trump, Brazil's Bolsonaro to Move Israel Embassy
File photo of Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro (Reuters)

Rio De Janeiro Brazil's far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has confirmed the country will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, making the Latin American country the largest after the United States to make the controversial switch.

The move from Tel Aviv, which will defy Palestinians and most of the world, is the latest controversial announcement by the former army captain, who has wasted no time implementing his hardline conservative agenda since his election win Sunday.

"As previously stated during our campaign, we intend to transfer the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel is a sovereign state and we shall duly respect that," Bolsonaro tweeted Thursday.

He also made waves on the domestic front, naming the judge who has upended Brazilian politics with a massive corruption investigation, Sergio Moro, to be his justice minister.

Moro is a hero to many Brazilians for his unrelenting "Car Wash" investigation, which uncovered the large-scale looting of state oil company Petrobras.

But for opponents, the move fuelled accusations that the judge was politically motivated -- especially against leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whom polls showed would have beaten Bolsonaro in the election had he not been jailed 12 years for corruption.

Bolsonaro promised in his victory speech to "change Brazil's destiny", and the four days since the election have given a glimpse of the magnitude of the change he has in mind.

The president-elect has doubled down on his vow to roll back gun-control laws so "good people" can take justice into their own hands, lashed out at the news media and begun lining up a cabinet of political outsiders, including an army general and an ultra-free-market economist.

A favourite with the market, Bolsonaro's election has seen Brazilian stocks gain 3.9 per cent in the week since the vote, closing at a record high Thursday. The Sao Paulo stock exchange's Ibovespa index added 1.14 per cent for the day to close at a record of 88,419 points, after breaking through the 89,000 barrier for the first time ever earlier in the day.

On the diplomatic front, the embassy move squarely aligns him with US President Donald Trump, and bolsters his image as a "Tropical Trump". Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

"I congratulate my friend Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro for his intention to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem, a historic, correct and exciting step!" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

Reversing long-standing US policy, the Trump administration transferred the American embassy on May 14. Guatemala and Paraguay followed suit, though the latter announced last month it would return its embassy to Tel Aviv.

Bolsonaro's first foreign trips as president will be to Israel, the United States and Chile -- countries that "share our worldview", according to the president-elect's future for chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni.

Bolsonaro has outraged many with his derogatory comments against women, gays and blacks, and his support for the torture used by Brazil's brutal military regime (1964-1985).

He did, however, back down from one controversy on Thursday: a plan to merge the agriculture and environment ministries. The plan had drawn warnings from activists that he was selling out Brazil's natural resources to his backers in the agrobusiness lobby.

Bolsonaro said industry insiders themselves had urged him to reconsider, fearing trade sanctions on their products from countries worried over the health of the Amazon rainforest.

"To avoid international pressure, among other things, I said I was ready to reverse the decision. But the one who's going to decide the environmental question will also be Mr Jair Bolsonaro. And (the future minister) will not be someone put there under pressure from NGOs," he said, referring to himself in the third person.

He repeated his oft-used line that environmentalists are "Shiites," a word he uses to imply extremism.

"We want to preserve the environment, but not in the way it's been done lately," he told journalists.

Anti-corruption crusader Moro said it was an "honour" to accept Bolsonaro's offer to head a "super ministry" combining the justice and public security portfolios.

His investigation has taken out a Who's Who of politicians and executives who colluded to pump billions of dollars from Petrobras into their own pockets or the coffers of their political parties. That has endeared him to many Brazilians fed up with endemic corruption.

But although politicians of all stripes have fallen, Moro has been accused of being particularly merciless on the left -- especially Lula, Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010.

Moro sentenced Lula -- a hugely divisive but enduringly popular figure -- to jail for taking bribes from a Petrobras contractor. That led the courts to bar Lula's presidential candidacy, dashing his hopes of making a come-back.

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