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Brazil sacks Bolsonaro-appointed ambassador to Israel

Lula's government has vowed to take 'balanced and traditional' approach to Israel and Palestine
Then-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, on 31 March 2019 (AFP)

Brazil's foreign minister has fired the country's ambassador to Israel amid a wider shake-up after former president Jair Bolsonaro lost his reelection and his supporters stormed several government institutions last week.

The removal of Gerson Menandro Garcia de Freitas, who was appointed as Brazil's envoy to Israel by Bolsonaro in 2020, was announced by the country's foreign ministry in a statement published earlier this week.

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The decision comes as the new government, led by leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, also known as Lula, has vowed to "resume its traditional and balanced stance kept for over seven decades" on Israel and Palestine.

The Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, was present at Lula's inauguration. However, on his return, Israel banned him from leaving the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last week, supporters of Bolsonaro who refused to accept his election defeat stormed Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace, a week after Lula's inauguration.

Thousands of people bypassed security barricades, climbed on roofs, smashed windows, and invaded government buildings.

Lula accused Bolsonaro of encouraging the uprising by those he termed "fascist fanatics", and signed a decree for the government to take control of security in the federal district.

Meanwhile, the US this week confirmed the appointment of Elizabeth Frawley Bagley as ambassador to Brazil, filling a more than year-long vacancy. Pro-Israel groups had called for the dismissal of her appointment after revealing she made comments stating: "There is always the influence of the Jewish lobby because there is major money involved."

Bolsonaro's strong ties with Israel

After entering office in 2018, Bolsonaro pledged to reverse decades of Brazilian foreign policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2019, he announced plans to move the country's embassy to Jerusalem and recognised Israel's claim over the city. While he later backtracked on the embassy move, he did open a trade mission in Jerusalem, triggering anger among Palestinians.

During his time in office, Bolsonaro had appointed de Freitas - a retired general - as ambassador to Israel, with the goal of boosting security ties with Israel, according to Axios.

The appointment was part of his policy shift to move Brazil closer to Israel, and Bolsonaro himself had a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His connection to Israel, in part, stems from strong support from Brazil's evangelical movement. And his baptism ceremony, which took place in the Jordan River in Israel, helped to cement him in this base.

His government has also stated its opposition to a probe by the International Criminal Court into potential war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians and it has been opposed to several resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council critical of Israel.

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