JERUSALEM – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited the Western Wall alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, becoming the first head of state to do so with an Israeli premier.
The visit came after Bolsonaro, sworn in as Brazil’s president on January 1, arrived for a three-day trip to Israel on Sunday.
The site, one of the holiest in Judaism, is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community. Such visits can be seen as granting tacit approval to Israeli sovereignty over the site.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said it was the first time a sitting head of state had visited there with an Israeli prime minister.
The two men approached the wall and placed their hands on its stones during the brief visit in rainy weather.
Bolsonaro’s visit follows a similar one by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on March 21, when he became the first high-ranking American official to visit the Western Wall with an Israeli prime minister.
Bolsonaro has expressed his strong support for Israel and spoken of being moved by a Christian pilgrimage to the Jordan River he undertook a couple of years ago.
He has also pledged to follow in US President Donald Trump’s footsteps and move Brazil’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem, but that is on hold for now.
Moving the embassy would please Bolsonaro’s evangelical Christian support base, but would also risk provoking commercial retaliation from Arab states, some of which are major importers of Brazilian meat.
Instead, Bolsonaro said Sunday that his government would open a trade, technology and innovation office in the disputed city.
Trump became the first sitting American president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray, in May 2017, but he was not accompanied by any Israeli leaders.
Monday’s visit and the one by Pompeo come ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections in which Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.
The visits have provided him with an opportunity to further his argument that he is Israel’s irreplaceable statesman, a key part of his campaign.
Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil when he travelled there for Bolsonaro’s inauguration.
In their discussions then, the two right-wingers talked up their budding “brotherhood” which they said would boost military, economic, technological and agricultural cooperation. Both Netanyahu and Bolsonaro have good relations with Trump.–MercoPress