Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro caused a big uproar in Israel after he addressed a group of evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro, saying that he believes the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven but not forgotten. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Centre criticised him, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin not only criticised him but threaten him. He posted on Twitter: “We will always oppose those who deny the truth or those who wish to expunge our memory – not individuals or groups, not party leaders or prime ministers. We will never forgive and never forget.”
What Amalek did to us inscribed in our memory, the memory of an ancient people. We will always oppose those who deny the truth or those who wish to expunge our memory – not individuals or groups, not party leaders or prime ministers. We will never forgive and never forget
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) April 13, 2019
A Few days before this incident happened, Bolsonaro rushed to the aid of his friend, Netanyahu, upon the request of American President, Donald Trump, to help him win the Israeli general elections, local media revealed. This comment reflects Bolsonaro’s lack of awareness of his “Jewish friend’s” sensitivities. Trump made a similar error when he addressed his supporters in the American Republic Jewish Coalition, ignoring the differences between Jewish Americans and Jewish Israelis. Yet, Netanyahu needs both their help and he will accept it whenever necessary, anti-Semitic or not.
To understand how this relationship works, let us start with the Trump-Netanyahu connection. Helping Netanyahu win the election
Trump’s first step in support of Netanyahu was to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal, upon the Israeli prime minister’s request. The agreement had been signed by his predecessor Barack Obama following rigorous negotiations and presented as an accomplishment of European and American diplomacy.
Trump’s second move was recognising Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and relocating the American embassy to it, contrary to international law that considers Jerusalem an occupied city. Although Trump’s move has not changed much in reality, because Israel has been systematically Judaising the city since it occupied it in 1967, the move was a major moral victory for Netanyahu and fulfilled the wishes of many religious Israelis who perceived controlling the city as the pinnacle of the Zionist project.
Then came the acknowledgement of the occupation’s legitimacy of sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights. This area, the Trump administration explained, had to be in Tel Aviv’s control because it could not be left in the hands of Syria or Iran allowing them to attack Israel’s security.
It was clear as soon as Trump entered the White House and appointed his son-in-law and close friend of Netanyahu, Jerad Kushner, as his Middle East advisor, that Israel’s relations with the Arab world – especially the Gulf – would improve. Advancing relations with the Arab and Muslim countries was natural, as long as the only superpower puts its weight behind Israel.
Trump’s administration declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, part of the Iranian army, a terrorist organisation; a first in the history of the US. This again was a boost to Netanyahu’s chances of winning the elections. As for Bolsonaro’s visit, the Israeli media exposed that it was upon Trump’s request and for the same reason.
Finally, to address his far right allies, Netanyahu declared that he will not pull out of any settlement posts in the West Bank, big or small, and Israel will annex most of the occupied region classified in the Oslo Accords as “Area C”. The White House’s reaction was not a surprise, it said that this will not endanger the two-state solution, in a tacit approval of Netanyahu’s declaration.
Keeping Trump president
Netanyahu will pay Trump back in the same way. Using the American pro-Israel lobby, as Thomas Freidman wrote during the Israeli elections: “Trump will get his campaign contributions from Adelson; Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] will try to win re-election with Trump’s help, to avoid jail by partnering with a racist Israeli party; the Palestinians will get blamed for everything, only some of which they’ll deserve; AIPAC will have a banner year raising money.”
The second means will be through Netanyahu’s connections with the American evangelicals, who are willing to follow Netanyahu and the rest of Israel’s right-wingers to their last breath, and will not hesitate to support Trump, if Netanyahu asks them to.
Netanyahu’s strategy does not only apply to Trump and Bolsonaro but it includes all other right-wing leaders, wherever they are. These leaders are not known for their love of minorities, especially Jews.
The simple conclusion is that it is never really about the Holocaust nor Antisemitism. It is all about politics.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.