by Luciana Garcia de Oliveira
Master in Jewish and Arab Studies, Department of Eastern Literature, University of São Paulo (DLO-USP) and associate researcher of the Center for Jewish Studies (CEJ-USP). Responsible for translating Hannah Arendt’s collection, The Jewish Writings, into Portuguese (2016). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling
Christian Zionism was unnoticed in Brazil until the 2018 presidential elections. The candidate for the presidency of the Republic, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, supported massively by some Pentecostal churches, by Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, by Assembleia de Deus, and by Congregação Cristã do Brasil, as well as politicians and bishops that constitute the so-called “Bancada Evangélica” of the Brazilian parliament, appeared on the scene amid popular demonstrations taking as central symbols Brazil’s flag along with the American and Israelis flags. It was perceived, from then on, the sudden changes in speech and the direction of Brazilian politics.
Since the mid-1980s, there has been a gradual increase in the presence of evangelicals in public positions in the Brazilian executive and legislative branches. In general, the members of the “Bancada Evangélica” appear during the commemorative dates of the Israeli calendar and the violent cycles of the Arab-Israeli conflict. On these occasions, they usually speak out publicly in defense of the state of Israel considered by them as the “Promised Land” and in the name of the Jewish people, “the people chosen by God”.
However, a demonstration outside Israel’s religious calendar caught the attention of the Brazilian press. It was during the vote of the impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff in the Brazilian parliament, in 2016, that the parliamentary Ronaldo Fonseca (PROS-DF), when voting for yes, complemented publicly in the microphone “yes, for the peace in Jerusalem”. When asked about the relationship between Jerusalem and the political situation in Brazil, Fonseca said in an interview to the BBC – Brazil website (2016) that he manifested in support for the peace in Jerusalem because, according to him, “the Workers Party (PT) government turned back to Israel. (…) The only time a president went to the Middle East and not stepped in Israel was President Lula. President Dilma rejected an ambassador appointed by Israel just because he was a settler in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip”. As can be seen, the Zionist Christians’ unconditional defense to the state of Israel occurs because they consider Israel as the Christians’ second homeland. Many believe that the nation will be blessed if there is religious and political support to Israel.
Before Bolsonaro won the elections in Brazil, there was an intense mobilization of evangelical parliamentarians with some Israeli politicians to put into practice an old desire for changes in the Brazilian foreign policy. According to the Christian Zionist base, the changes in Brazil’s international relations should establish greater political engagement in the Israeli cause. These changes would be reflected in the plan to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Israel, from the city of Tel Aviv to the city of Jerusalem. The transfer of the Brazilian embassy was one of the most prominent promises of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign.
Still in 2016, as parliamentary, Bolsonaro was in Israel, he met some Israeli parliamentarians and visited the Ministry of Agriculture. There, Bolsonaro celebrated the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In a video shared on social networks, he stated that it was time for the Brazilian government to approach other countries and to abandon international relations based on political and ideological aspects.
When elected in 2019, he made his first official trip to Israel as president of Brazil. At first, Bolsonaro aimed to fulfill his campaign promise to transfer Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem. However, at that time, the Brazilian government was already under pressure from Arab countries that import Brazilian products. In December of the same year, the countries of the Arab League sent a letter to the President of Brazil, stating that this measure could harm Brazil’s relations with the Arab countries, especially about beef exports. The statement from the Arab League had an important impact since Brazil is considered the largest exporter of beef to the Arab and Islamic world.
Faced with political and economic pressures, in Israel, the Brazilian representative, instead of transferring the Brazilian embassy, decided to open a commercial office in Jerusalem without diplomatic status. This same measure had already been adopted by two countries governed by the extreme populist right: Hungary of Viktor Orbán and the Czech Republic of Milos Zeman. Despite Bolsonaro did not fully fulfill his initial promise, the opening of a Brazilian office in Jerusalem is considered the first step towards moving the embassy to the city and thus recognizing, in fact, the city of Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the state of Israel.
The presence of the Brazilian government in Israel was repudiated by some representatives of the Palestinian people. The Hamas group sent a statement to the Brazilian government condemning the president of Brazil’s visit to the “Israeli occupation” to contradict Brazil’s historical relations with the Palestinian people. The Hamas letter generated reactions in the Brazilian government. Impulsively, the parliamentary and son of the president of Brazil, Flavio Bolsonaro, wrote in his Twitter account: “I want Hamas to explode!”.
East Jerusalem is historically claimed as the capital of a future Palestinian state. If the transfer of diplomatic representation were fully materialized, Brazil would be the third country in the world to officially recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, after the United States of Donald Trump and Guatemala of Jimmy Morales.
In addition to the Palestinian question, Jerusalem is considered the second most sacred city for Muslims. According to what is professed by Islam, it was at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem that the prophet Mohammad was led by a miracle of God (Allah) and from where he ascended to heaven.
Brazilian Pentecostalism comes from Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. The fundamentalist Christian movement started in the United States in 1910. However, according to the professor of the Universidade Estadual de São Leopoldo, Wilhelm Wachholz, and the researcher André Daniel Reinke (2020), it was around 1925 that “the fundamentalists started to expand what they defined as fundamentals of faith for secondary questions, involving campaigns against evolutionism, communism and ecumenism” (p. 259).
The popularization of Zionist Christianity occurred in 1967, after Israel’s overwhelming victory over the Arab states in the war known popularly as the “Six-Day War”. Many American Protestants interpret the June war of 1967 as a miraculous victory in the battle of David against Goliath. Zionist Christians have unconditionally defended the state of Israel since the mid-1970s. And, the political and religious support, over time, has reverted to huge remittances of money and weapons to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). In addition to political pressure, by Israel’s lobby at the American parliament, around a more favorable foreign policy to Israeli interests and, in opposition to the Arabs.
In Brazil, the support of Pentecostal Zionist groups to the Israeli doctrines strengthened and advanced the Brazilian’s borders. In the mid-1990s, some Brazilian Pentecostal churches such as the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus and the Congregação Cristã do Brasil, settled in Israel. These growing affinities between Brazilians and Israelis increased religious tourism and the degree of political support for the Israeli state.
On the other hand, the militancy for a missionary, conservative and right-wing Israel represents only one Israeli sector, among others, intentionally concealed by followers of the Christian Zionism doctrine. The bishops and devotees of the Brazilian Pentecostal churches, according to the professor of History from the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), Michel Gherman (2020), “produce an imaginary Jew and, at the same time, also produces an imaginary Israel” and that does not correspond with the reality of Israel and the Israeli and Jewish communities of the Diaspora. These Pentecostal sectors are not interested in a state of Israel that houses one of the largest gay parades in the world, which has legalized the use of cannabis and has decriminalized abortion.
The adherents and supporters of Christian Zionism Pentecostalism tend not to consider left-wing Jews as real Jews. The Brazilian extremist movement, reflected in the personality of Jair Bolsonaro, aims absolutely to associate Judaism and Israel with religious fundamentalism, colonialism, militarism, imperialism, and racism. And, inevitably, the sectors of the extreme right appropriated the Israeli flag and, in the same way, the colors of the Brazilian flag.
While Israeli sectors, honored by Brazilian Pentecostal Christians, persecute, discriminate and murder the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. In Brazil, many intolerance religious crimes against the devotees and the African temples are mostly promoted by Zionist Christians. According to an article published on the Brasil de Fato website (2020), “only in the first half of 2019, there was a 56% increase in the number of complaints of religious intolerance”. Most of the reports were made by practitioners and followers of the African religions.
The “imaginary Brazil” of Bolsonaro and the Zionist Christians is perverse, extremist, moralistic, and racist. And, in no way matches the real Brazil of ethnic and cultural plurality. It will be up to us to decide which Brazil will survive.
Barrucho, Luís (2016). “Falei para chamar a atenção”, diz deputado ao justificar o voto pela paz em Jerusalém. BBC – Brasil, disponível em:
Gherman, Michel (2009). Deus e o Diabo na Terra Santa. WebMosaica – Revista do Instituto Cultural Judaico Marc Chagall, v.1, nº 1, pp. 56-71.
Gherman, Michel (2020). Quando a nova esquerda e a nova direita encontram o Israel imaginário, no Brasil. Instituto Brasil-Israel, disponível em:
Hamas repudia visita de Bolsonaro a Israel e pede “retratação” (2019). Revista Exame, disponível em: https://exame.com/mundo/hamas-repudia-visita-de-bolsonaro-a-israel/.
Souza, Marina Duarte de (2020). Denúncias de intolerância religiosa aumentaram 56% no Brasil em 2019. Brasil de Fato, dia 21 de janeiro de 2020, disponível em: https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2020/01/21/denuncias-de-intolerancia-religiosa-aumentaram-56-no-brasil-em-2019.
Wachholz, Wilhelm e Reinke, André Daniel (2020). “Pela paz de Jerusalém”. A origem do sionismo cristão, sua influência na igreja protestante brasileira e sua atuação no congresso nacional. Revista Brasileira de História das Religiões. ANPUH, ano XIII, nº 37, pp. 253-273.