Newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro welcomed PM Netanyahu to Brazil in a ceremony at Rio de Janeiro on Friday before his inauguration. They exchanged greetings and spoke of the “brotherhood” between the two countries. Bolsonaro is a right-wing candidate, who was elected following charges of corruption against the previous two Presidents, Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, and the fact that they have ruined Brazil’s economy. Although Brazil is a much larger and richer country than Israel, nevertheless they could use some advice in how to recover their economy from Israel.
Not only is Bolsonaro friendly towards Israel, but he has said that he will follow the US lead and move Brazil’s Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital. So far this was not addressed in the public speeches, but according to some sources, it has been discussed between the two leaders and will be in the works pretty soon. Both leaders visited a synagogue together in Copacabana.
There is a very good reason why Brazil of all countries in the world should be friendly towards Israel. Although it is in principle a Catholic country, a very large proportion of the immigrants from Brazil and Spain to Brazil were Crypto-Jews (or Anousim in Hebrew, meaning “coerced”) or their descendants (Bnei Anousim) trying to escape the Inquisition. These were the people who were forcibly converted to Christianity in Spain mainly in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 and known as New Christians, but who never left the Jewish religious tradition, and carried it on secretly. The Inquisition was mainly established to root out these heretics, and it was a capital offense to be found guilty of “Judaizing.” Also, this was a very good way for the Church and the State to enrich themselves since, like the Nazis, they confiscated all the assets and property of the accused and divided it between themselves, even before they were condemned and burnt to death in an auto-da-fé (confession by fire).
In The Jerusalem Post last Friday there was also an article by Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, that helps such quasi-Jewish groups to re-establish links with Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel. The article entitled “The Bnei Anousim: uncovering Jewish history and destiny in Latin America,” quotes a recent article in Nature Communications that found from genetic testing of large numbers of Latin Americans and a proportionate control, that ca. 23% of all Latin Americans have retained Jewish genetic markers. That’s almost one-quarter of the population of South America, a very large number of people!
Furthermore, the proportion of such people in Brazil is even greater. It is not well-known that the people who founded Saõ Paulo were in fact Bnei Anousim and furthermore a large group of them moved into the jungle to escape the Church authorities and were known as “bandeirantes” (I will provide the source for this information at a later date). In the jungle they intermarried with native peoples and formed a distinct group that still exists throughout Brazil, It is estimated that there are at least ca. 5 million people in and around the city of Recife in northeastern Brazil who identify as of Jewish origin. Many of these people retain vestiges of Jewish traditions and there is a movement in which they are now coming out openly and identifying as Jews, although Orthodox Jewish organizations do not recognize them as such. Many of these people are very pro-Israel. So it is quite appropriate for Israel and Brazil to establish strong ties.