What do you think of when someone mentions Brazil? Football? Coffee? The samba? Lovely people? Any and all of these probably.
However, for Israel, Brazil is the home of 120,000 Jews, all of whom are potential migrants to the occupation state. Haaretz reported on 20 June that according to researchers at the Technion–Israel Institute based in Haifa, Israeli officials should focus on Jewish communities in Brazil to encourage them to migrate; to make aliyah in Zionist parlance.
"The Jewish communities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are tight-knit, young, connected to Israel and less assimilated [than other Jewish communities in the world]," reported Haaretz. In addition, there are many features of Brazilian society such as unemployment, the lack of upward mobility and a fear of violence, as well as the quality of public services that lead many Brazilian Jews to consider leaving for Israel.
Violence and crime are the most common reasons that Brazilian Jews cite for making aliyah. According to Igarapé Institution, Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2017 there were 60,000 recorded murders. A rise in anti-Semitism in Brazil has also been reported.
The coronavirus crisis in the country is another factor. The number of Covid-19 deaths in Brazil has passed the 500,000 mark, the second-highest in the world. Experts say that a slow vaccination programme is likely to make the matter much worse.
"In fact, any well-trained young person wants to leave Brazil right now as we are experiencing a social crisis," Francirosy Campos Barbosa told me. "Covid-19 and the health crisis have widened inequalities and put Brazil on the hunger map again. This entire crisis has an impact on employment."
According to the associate professor in anthropology at the University of Sao Paulo, the social classes of the Brazilian Jewish community play a role in pushing them to migrate to Israel. "In Brazil, most Jews are from the middle and upper classes. As a result, they have a high standard of education which is attractive to Israeli universities and companies."
Barbosa added that the pro-Israel lobby is strong in Brazilian universities. "It is clear that a Jewish 'brain drain' from Brazil is related to the strengthening of Zionist Israel. There is a movement to get Brazilian intellectuals closer to Israeli universities, so that people are amazed at the country's educational technology."
The Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB) estimates that there are more than 120,000 Jews in Brazil, making it the tenth largest Jewish community in the world, and the second largest in Latin America, behind Argentina. "There is no doubt that the Jewish community has an important role in Brazilian society. It is represented in education, the arts and science, and in important civil spaces, including politics," the professor told me. "Undoubtedly, the current government contributes of this approach and it does not do it alone, but there is a strong political lobby."
In the past two decades, she added, there has been an increase in conversion to Judaism, something that did not exist before.
A number of institutions are involved in encouraging Brazilian Jews to make aliyah. Olim do Brasil is one such body. Its president, Gladis Berezowsky, reported that she receives dozens of requests for information about aliyah. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, an average of 650 Brazilians move to Israel every year and the number is increasing. Israel has allocated at least 1,180,000 shekels through the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Organisation to encourage the aliyah of Brazilian Jews.
Migrants are given help with everyday issues, such as opening a bank account, finding work and translating CVs. "When the aliyah organisations work together," said Berezowsky, "unity is strength."
Benjamin Netanyahu made the first state visit to Brazil by an Israeli Prime Minister in December 2018, days before the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro. "Israel is the Promised Land and Brazil is the land of promise," he told the then president-elect.
Since then there have been more direct flights connecting Israel and Brazil as Brazilian Jews consider a "holistic Jewish life in Israel" and moving from "the land of promise" to "the Promised Land". To what extent, though, will Israel invest in the crises affecting Brazil in order to attract more to make such a move?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.