Brazil approves Israel’s new ambassador after 18-month diplomatic imbroglio

Marcus Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Brazil announced it has accepted Yossi Sheli as Israel’s ambassador to the country putting an end to a standoff that led to a diplomatic abyss between the Jewish state and Latin America’s flagship nation.

The announcement made on Tuesday had been expected since Brazil’s centrist President Michel Temer was sworn in amid the impeachment process of leftist Dilma Rousseff, whose Worker’s Party had an openly anti-Israel platform.

“There is no doubt that this appointment will promote friendship between the two countries and further relations across many spheres, including economy and trade,” read a statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

“Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world and the home of an important and Zionist Jewish community,” the statement said.

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The Israeli ambassador slot has been vacant since December 2015, when Reda Mansour left the post, citing family-related reasons. Brasilia took several months to rebuff ex-settler leader Dani Dayan as the choice to succeed Mansour. Dayan was later awarded the consul general position in New York.

The Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s umbrella Jewish institution, welcomed Sheli as a solution to the long void at the helm of Israeli embassy in Brasilia.

“We express our satisfaction at the normalization of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Israel, again at the highest level, with the appointment of ambassadors,” said the confederation’s president Fernando Lottenberg, citing his country’s newly approved envoy to Jerusalem, Paulo Cesar Meira de Vasconcellos.

“We will continue to work to strengthen ties and strengthen the friendship between the two countries, which have strong historical, emotional and commercial ties, as well as common values and shared interests,” he added.

Brazil’s most influential newspaper Folha de S.Paulo called Sheli a “convicted businessman” in the title of the news article, adding that Israel “occupies territories” in “Palestine.”

Yossi Sheli is a Likud activist who was barred from public service for three years because of a perjury indictment. A former businessman, he has no diplomatic experience or state advocacy credentials.

The embassy in Brasilia and the Sao Paulo consulate have been Israel’s only diplomatic institutions in Brazil since the Rio de Janeiro consulate was closed several years ago. Israel has honorary consuls in Rio and Belo Horizonte.

Brazil is home to some 120,000 Jews. In 2016, some 700 Brazilians made aliyah to Israel, more than three times the annual average of about 200 new Brazilian immigrants and a 45-year record for the South American country.