Brazil: Jewish community divided after Lula win


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Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, waves a Brazilian flag on October 30, 2022.
Carl DE SOUZA / AFPLuiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, waves a Brazilian flag on October 30, 2022.

New president had complicated relations with Israel during his first terms

Brazil's Jewish community, which has some 120,000 members, on Sunday hailed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's victory in the presidential election against incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. 

Some Jews, however, remain wary in light of the complicated relationship they've had with the former union leader.

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"President Lula, we wish you great success in your four-year term. At the same time, we reiterate our permanent availability for constructive and democratic dialogue," Claudio Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, said in a statement.

Lula, who served as Brazil's president between 2003 and 2010, garnered 50.90 percent of all validated votes in Sunday's tight second round. Right-wing Bolsonaro, a devout Christian and supporter of Israel, won 49.10 percent of the vote.

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Lottenberg's statement recalls that Jewish groups had very difficult relations with Lula during his first terms.

Speaking with Calev Ben-David on i24NEWS' The Rundown, Lottenberg said, "President Lula is also concerned about the future of the nation of the Palestinians. But does it mean he's against Israel? But does it mean that he has any kind of antisemitic feelings about our community?"

In 2009, then-President Lula warmly welcomed former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a notorious Holocaust denier who vowed to "wipe Israel off the face of the earth," during a visit that sparked international criticism.

A year later, Lula became the first Brazilian head of state to visit Israel since Emperor Pedro II visited the Holy Land in 1876. 

NELSON ALMEIDA / AFPBrazil's newest president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

He had, however, refused to go to the tomb of Theodor Herzl, which was part of the itinerary planned for foreign officials visiting for the 150th anniversary of the father of Zionism. A few days later, he laid a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave in Ramallah. 

Finally, in the last month of his term, his government officially recognized a Palestinian state.

Lottenberg, who accompanied Lula on his 2010 visit to Israel, added, "He is committed to peace, and this is something that we have to recognize." 

While in power, Lula enacted an ambitious social policy that lifted nearly 30 million Brazilians out of poverty, although his tenure was marred by various scandals. 

For his part, Bolsonaro, whose controversial rhetoric has earned him the label of racist, misogynist, homophobic and fascist, developed a historically warm ties with Israel and its former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. 

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