On December 15, Brazil opened a trade office in Jerusalem and announced that it would soon relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his appreciation by declaring Israel has “no better friends than the people and government of Brazil”.
Brazil’s endorsement of settler-colonialism and military occupation in Palestine is part of a broader global trend of right-wing, far-right, and fundamentalist movements embracing Zionism as a model for the successful perpetuation of racist policies.
Brazil’s growing support for Israel
A religious nationalist and former army captain, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is known for patriarchal, misogynist, and racist comments. He insulted African, Middle Eastern, and Haitian refugees as “the scum of humanity,” attacked LGBT populations, and promoted legal inequality of women. Bolsonaro’s regime has been described as fascist by some observers.
Upon assuming office in 2018, Bolsonaro broke with the South American country’s moderate stance on Palestine. During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro advocated for the closure of the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia, dismissed Palestinians as “terrorists”, and promised to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem. At his election rallies, the Israeli flag often appeared alongside the Brazilian one. Following Bolsonaro’s election victory, a senior Brazilian diplomatic source told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “Brazil will now be coloured in blue and white,” referring to the colours of the Israeli flag. As president, Bolsonaro made his firstofficial state visit outside the Americas to Israel and was warmly welcomed in Tel Aviv, where he proclaimed his love for Israel in Hebrew.
Israel reciprocated the fascination. From the very beginning of his presidency, Israel viewed Bolsonaro as a new ally. When Netanyahu attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration, he was greeted by Brazil’s Christian evangelicals, who issued a special stamp to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the settler-colonial state. It featured Netanyahu’s face and the Hebrew word for “saviour”.
Bolsonaro is backed by Brazil’s rapidly growing evangelical population, which, numbering approximately 45 million, has gained political and social influence.
Brazil’s evangelical movement has ties to its US counterpart. Well-represented in the US government, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, white evangelicals form the conservative base of the Republican Party and have largely supported Donald Trump.
Israel is of central importance for Zionist evangelicals, who follow the belief that Jews need to be concentrated in Palestine for the second coming of Jesus to be triggered. Reading history through a religious lens, evangelical Zionists view the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 as the fulfilment of a religious prophecy. Israel is thus elevated above international law and human rights obligations.
Christian Zionists are not alone in their support and admiration of Israel. Right-wing and far-right movements and political parties across the world also idolise Israel as they view the Zionist colonial project as a successful model of European domination over the indigenous populations of developing countries.
Seizing on ultraconservative concerns about demographic developments in multicultural societies for the perpetuation of Islamophobic, white supremacist and otherwise racist ideologies, different far-right movements intersect in their adherence to Zionism.
Forms of population containment, such as travel bans, deportations, construction of walls, and mass incarceration, have long been developed by Israel and tested on Palestinians. Israel has transformed Islamophobic and Orientalist thinking into genocidal policies, which many far-right supporters see as an inspiration for their own countries.
Right-wing ideologues can easily combine anti-Semitism with a pro-Israeli stance. In 1895, Zionism’s founding father, Theodor Herzl, predicted that “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”
While anti-Semitism and Zionism intersect structurally, as both depend on a collective politicisation of Jews as the “Other”, the current dynamics have made the macabre alliance impossible to ignore.
Far-right parties have increasingly joined the established political spectrum throughout Europe. Austria’s far-right “Freedom Party” (FPO), and Germany’s far-right AfD have incorporated Zionism into their regressive ideologies, viewing Israel as a model for the creation of racist/racial hierarchies. Both parties include outspoken anti-Semites.
While disregarding the rights of Palestinians, the European far-right has rhetorically abused the Palestinian population for the furthering of Islamophobic propaganda and the whitewashing of its own anti-Semitism. Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements are often presented as the frontier of Western civilisation. To name a few examples, former FPO leader Hans Christian Strache declared that his heart is with the settlers. Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders asked Palestinians to leave Palestine for Jordan, justifying ethnic cleansing. The far-right party Swedish Democrats is fighting for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Israeli regime has long positioned itself within the global political right and, particularly under Netanyahu, proudly collaborates with the far-right. It even glorifies some prominent far-right figures, such as Italian politician Matteo Salvini, as “great friends of Israel”.
Israel’s far-right “friends” also include Hungary’s Victor Orban. Known for his Islamophobic and anti-refugee discourse, Orban praised former Hungarian Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy, who oversaw the killing of half a million Jews in Hungary. Another friend is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is infamous for racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks. Duterte once favourably compared himself to Hitler and ridiculed Holocaust victims. Despite this, he later visited Israel and, with Netanyahu, participated in a memorial service at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. His visit included the signing of an oil exploration license and new arms deals.
All this, however, is not shocking to anyone who follows the far-right and the Israeli government closely. In fact, Jerusalem is a crucial intersection of Zionists and anti-Semites.
Following his visit to the Holocaust memorial, Bolsonaro proclaimed that Nazism was a leftist and socialist movement, effectively engaging in Holocaust revisionism. This, however, is in line with Netanyahu’s own historical revisionism. Israel’s PM previously claimed that “Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews“, wrongfully propagating a theory of Palestinian involvement in the Holocaust.
At the opening of the Trump administration’s new embassy in Jerusalem in 2018, evangelical pastors Robert Jeffress and John Hagee delivered prayers. Prominent televangelist Jeffress previously claimed: “You can’t be saved being a Jew.” He denounced Islam, Mormonism, and Judaism. In an attempt to justify Jewish settlement in Palestine, Hagee, founder of the Zionist organisation Christians United for Israel, had used the Bible to rationalise the Holocaust, claiming: “God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.”
As these dynamics reveal, Palestine/Israel has been central to regressive governments, political parties and movements around the world. White supremacists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and religious fundamentalists can find inspiration in Zionism for many purposes. Whether their goal is to conceal anti-Semitism, to further racist policies or to trigger an apocalypse – as long as they praise the Israeli government, they will most likely be accepted as friends.
Today, Tel Aviv is quick to make friends with new right-wing governments, wherever they may emerge. This approach has been visible in South America, beyond Brazil. Venezuela and Bolivia have long been among Israel’s staunchest opponents internationally. Caracas broke ties with the Zionist state following the 2008-2009 Gaza War. Bolivia’s Morales declared Israel a “terrorist state”, after condemning its wars against Palestinians. However, US-imposed Venezuelan “interim president” Juan Guaido, was immediately recognised by Israel and is attempting to re-establish diplomatic ties. Bolivia’s US-backed controversial interim president, Jeanine Anez, promptly restored relations with Israel and dropped visa restrictions.
Despite aligning itself with the global right, Israel is still supported by liberal and leftist politics in the West and, due to deeply embedded Orientalism in the Euro-American sphere, the Zionist state is more often than not comprehended as a liberal democratic outpost in the Middle East. As a result, the oppression of Palestinians continues to extend transnationally and beyond political ideologies.