Brazil’s only Jewish congressman accused of Nazi behavior

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian Jewish congressman was accused by one of his party’s colleagues of Nazi behavior for recommending criminal charges against Brazil’s president.

“I will never bow to anyone when the offense pleaded against me is a racist atrocity alluding to my religion, though concealed by a play on words. I am the only Jew in office, which makes the defamation even more abusive,” Congressman Sergio Zveiter said on Thursday.

Zveiter, who is currently Brazil’s only Jewish congressman, is the author of the charge submitted to the Brazilian Congress denouncing President Michel Temer for passive corruption. If the plenary accepts the recommendation, Temer will be judged by the country’s Supreme Court.

“We are going to tear up our criminal code. This is an apology for Nazism and fascism. Mussolini was evil. Hitler was evil with this policy. The congressman’s behavior was sad,” Congressman Darcisio Perondi said of the Jewish lawmaker in defense of President Temer.

Brazilian President Michel Temer attending an International Holocaust Remembrance Day service at Congregacao Israelita Paulista synagogue in Sao Paulo, January 27, 2017. (Beto Barata/PR via JTA)

Sergio Zveiter belongs to a family of prestigious lawmakers. His father, Waldemar Zveiter, is a former president of Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice. His brother, Luis Zveiter, has presided over Rio’s Court of Justice.

“Being accused of Nazism taints the honor of anyone, but especially when the victim is a member of the community that had six million of its members exterminated by the repugnant Nazi regime. That’s religious prejudice, the only reason to address a Jew using the references of what most nefarious and painful struck our people in the history of mankind, the Holocaust,” he added.

Several Jewish officials supported Zveiter’s reaction, led by the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization

“It is regrettable that, in the context of the political debate, this type of analogy is used improperly and precisely to reach a member of our community. We lament and reject any comparison of the current political situation in Brazil with the Nazi regime,” said the confederation’s president Fernando Lottenberg.

Rio Jewish Federation President Herry Rosenberg agrees. “The constant comparison of political opponents with Nazis and fascists must be repudiated throughout society. Zveiter is a Brazilian of the highest moral and ethical stature and a distinguished member of our community,” he said.

“Sergio Zveiter’s reaction filled the Jewish community with pride. He belongs to a traditional family of lawmakers. His father Waldemar Zveiter was the author of a phrase that stood as his trademark: ‘I am Brazilian, Jewish and Zionist’,” Israel’s honorary consul Osias Wurman told JTA.

After massive media coverage, Perondi released a note to the media: “If there was a misunderstanding, I apologize to the whole Jewish community, which I respect and where I have I have excellent relations.”


Ex-President of Brazil Sentenced to Nearly 10 Years in Prison for Corruption

RIO DE JANEIRO — The former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was found guilty of corruption and money laundering on Wednesday and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison, a stunning setback for a politician who has wielded enormous influence across Latin America for decades.

The case against Mr. da Silva, who raised Brazil’s profile on the world stage as president from 2003 to 2010, stemmed from charges that he and his wife illegally received about $1.1 million in improvements and expenses from a construction company for a beachfront apartment.

In exchange, prosecutors said, the company was able to obtain lucrative contracts from Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant.

Plagued by scandals, Mr. da Silva’s leftist Workers’ Party lost the presidency last year when the Senate impeached his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, in a power struggle that consumed the nation.

Mr. da Silva, 71, can appeal the conviction, but the ruling could deliver a crippling blow to his plans for a political comeback.


He has called the allegations against him a “farce” and has announced his intention to run for president in next year’s election. He had been widely considered a leading contender.

But Judge Sergio Moro, who issued Wednesday’s verdict, said that under Brazilian law, Mr. da Silva would be ineligible to run for office for twice as long as his sentence, or 19 years. Unless Mr. da Silva prevails on appeal, that finding leaves the Workers’ Party without an obvious candidate in next year’s vote.

The conviction is the latest salvo by Brazil’s judicial branch, which has declared war on the country’s entrenched culture of corruption. Brazil’s current president, Michel Temer, was charged last month with corruption, part of a near constant stream of allegations and charges that have ripped through the nation’s political establishment in recent years.

Judge Moro, who oversees cases stemming from a broad graft scandal surrounding the state-controlled oil company, said Mr. da Silva’s actions were part of a “scheme of systemic corruption” in Petrobras.
“The president of the republic has enormous responsibilities,” Judge Moro wrote. “As such, his culpability is also” enormous when he commits crimes, he added.

Mr. da Silva presided over a period of robust economic growth in Brazil and remains a widely popular figure, credited with leading a social transformation that lifted millions from poverty in a nation with one of the world’s biggest disparities between rich and poor.

Despite the corruption allegations against him and his party, Mr. da Silva has been leading in recent public opinion polls on the election. Mr. Moro, the judge who convicted him, is often cited as Mr. da Silva’s closest rival in hypothetical matchups in the presidential race, though Mr. Moro has ruled out running for office.

In the verdict, Mr. Moro said that the former president had sought to intimidate the court, which the judge argued could be grounds for ordering his immediate arrest. Yet, Mr. Moro wrote, he deemed it “prudent” to allow Mr. da Silva to remain free pending an appeal.

Sending a former president to jail would be a “traumatic” event, he wrote.

While Mr. da Silva’s conviction involves relatively modest sums, especially compared with the staggering scale of some corruption cases in Brazil, prosecutors have described him as the mastermind of an enormous kickback scheme that enabled his party to buy support in Congress.

The case against him began with a probe into money laundering at a gas station. But as prosecutors continued digging, they said they discovered billions of dollars worth of bribes involving Petrobras and powerful contractors like Odebrecht, a large construction company with deep ties across the hemisphere. The case — which became known as the Lava Jato, or Car Wash, scandal — has ensnared other powerful politicians and put dozens of lawmakers under a cloud of suspicion.
Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House, was sentenced in March to 15 years in jail for money laundering and corruption uncovered during the Petrobras investigation. And Mr. Temer, the current president, is working furiously to avoid being put on trial, hoping to convince lawmakers not to send the charges against him to the Supreme Court, the only venue where senior sitting politicians can be prosecuted.

The investigations have left Brazilians with few prominent politicians untainted by allegations of corruption. Wary politicians, meanwhile, have been considering passing an amnesty law to shield themselves, arguing that such protection is warranted to avert a collapse of the political system.

Swastika painted inside Star of David on Rio Jewish club’s wall

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Vandals spray painted a swastika inside a Star of David on the entrance wall of a Jewish sports club located on a busy avenue in Rio.

The Nazi symbol, drawn backwards, appeared inside the three-foot-tall Jewish symbol that identifies the Brazilian Israelite Club, a Jewish institution attended by Jews and non-Jews and whose doors commonly remain open for neighborhood events.

“The symbol of the terrible Nazi regime is offensive not only to Jews but also to gypsies, homosexuals and all groups persecuted by the Third Reich,” said Harry Rosenberg, president of the Rio Jewish Federation. “Even if the criminal drew the swastika in the reserve way, the symbol offends all humankind.”

Copacabana is Rio’s most-Jewish populated neighborhood with some 3,500 Jewish families and several Jewish institutions including the Rio Jewish Federation, the Jewish Agency, the honorary consul’s office, a Jewish school and many synagogues.

“We will not admit any type of anti-Semitism or intolerance be it racial or religious or against minorities. We won’t allow,” Claudio Goldemberg, vice president of the Rio Jewish federation, said during an interview with the Globo TV channel.

Local police are investigating the incident, which is considered a hate crime because it occurred at a venue representing a particular religion. Last week, the club hosted a Jewish-led debate with participants from the political right wing.

A few blocks away from the club, a square was dedicated Friday in memory of late Israeli leader Shimon Peres. Rio’s mayor Marcelo Crivella attended the inauguration ceremony and said that his city residents must be inspired by the Peace Nobel Prize winner’s legacy of peace.

Several years ago, a 23-year-old student was charged for boasting of a leg tattoo of a swastika during a party at the club. A confessed Hitler sympathizer, he declared he was “just kidding.”

In 2016, three swastikas were found on the street parallel to the one where the square was recently inaugurated.

Brazilian President acquitted in illegal campaign funds case


Rio de Janeiro (CNN) Brazil’s top electoral court voted to acquit President Michel Temer and former President Dilma Rousseff following an investigation of allegations they received illegal campaign funds in the 2014 elections.

The 4-3 decision gives Temer some breathing room, but he still faces a corruption investigation and street protests that threaten to force him from office before the next presidential elections in October 2018.
Temer, 76, was the vice-presidential candidate alongside Rousseff in 2014, but Rousseff was impeached last year for illegal fiscal maneuvers aimed at hiding the budget shortfall. She has denied the allegations.
The prospect of a second Brazilian president being forced out of office in less than a year has unsettled markets and investors.
The Brazilian economy has started to crawl out of the worst recession on record, thanks in part to Temer’s efforts to push unpopular austerity measures through Congress.
But with the corruption investigation heating up, it is not clear he will have the political backing to get key pension and other measures approved.
“Pension reform is certainly at risk, and as Temer continues to struggle for his survival in coming months some items on the agenda may be slowed,” Christopher Garman of the Eurasia Group consultancy wrote in a report.
Nonetheless, he said other reforms would likely move forward.
The latest scandal broke last month. A secret recording surfaced on which Temer and Joesley Batista, the president of a multinational food processing company named JBS, can be heard talking about paying bribes.
In a plea deal, Batista said Temer condoned the payment of hush money to silence a jailed legislator. Temer has denied the allegations and says the recording was doctored.
But the scandal — just the latest development in the long-running “Operation Car Wash” corruption investigation that has implicated dozens of politicians from across the political spectrum — prompted new street protests.
Temer’s approval rating is in the single digits and the Supreme Court has opened an investigation into alleged corruption and obstruction of justice.
If Temer is ousted, power is handed to Congress, which will have up to 30 days to choose a caretaker president until new elections.
In the meantime, the Car Wash investigation has already engulfed the major political players and business leaders — leaving the electoral field wide open.

It’s Jew vs. Jew as a conservative pol’s popularity rises in Rio

Jair Bolsonaro

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) – A few days before they read from the Passover Haggadah about how God split the Red Sea waters, Brazilian Jews have never felt so split between right and left.

At the center of the divide, although hardly in the Moses role, is Jair Bolsonaro, a 61-year-old conservative lawmaker who appears to be as pro-Israel as he is anti-gay and pro-law and order.

Bolsonaro, a member of the Social Christian Party, is appealing to socially conservative voters even as he alienates the center and left with harsh anti-LGBT rhetoric.

Although not yet among the top candidates for president in 2018, his popularity is surging across the country, but mainly in Rio de Janeiro state, which he represents as a member of what some consider Brazil’s most conservative Congress in 40 years.

Like evangelical and deeply conservative politicians in the United States, Bolsonaro is divisive among Jewish voters, who tend to be socially liberal but want their representatives to be strongly pro-Israel.

“My heart is green, yellow, blue and white,” Bolsonaro said to an audience of 400 at the Hebraica club in Rio on April 3 in a reference to the Israeli and Brazilian flags. He won big applause as he hailed the Jewish state for its power and social welfare system, saying it should inspire Latin America’s largest nation.

Meanwhile, outside the club, nearly 150 mostly Jewish activists — including many teens and 20-somethings wearing the blue uniform of the Hashomer Hatszair Jewish youth movement — protested Bolsonaro’s appearance. The crowd yelled “shameless Jews” and “fascist Jews” in unison at the club gate. Rio’s most establishment Jewish institution, Hebraica was founded in 1957 by Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.

“It is deplorable that a Jewish youth movement such as Shomer, funded by Israel, offends other Jews with cursing and slurs,” Hebraica Rio president Luiz Mairovich told JTA. “It’s unacceptable. I have never seen that in my life: a Jew cursing another Jew. It was a case of anti-Semitism among Jews. We will listen to everyone. Those same people who booed today will clap tomorrow.”

Some protesters wore yellow Stars of David with words like “women” and “gay.” During a TV debate in 2003, Bolsonaro told a far-left congresswoman, Maria do Rosario, “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it.” Critics have also accused Bolsonaro of homophobia and racism for his opposition to same-sex partnerships and quotas at universities.

“It is extreme levity to preach the use of yellow stars in a political event,” Israel’s honorary consul, Osias Wurman, told JTA. “It is the most stupid and fratricidal way to trivialize the Holocaust.

“We do not need enemies, we have them within our community. What a downfall! These sick-minded people have to be isolated from the healthy Zionist youth. They invade the memory of our 6 million innocents.”

The president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization, took a more neutral tone to the talk and the protests.

“The talk generated, as expected, division and confusion in the Jewish community,” Fernando Lottenberg said. “We support the political debate and believe it is always necessary even more at this moment of dramatic developments in national politics. However, we defend that it has criteria and be always guided by balance and pluralism. Our community has a great diversity of thought.”

Rabbi Nilton Bonder, an author and spiritual leader of Rio’s only Conservative synagogue, was critical of Bolsonaro’s speech, including his anti-immigration stances. (“We can’t open our doors to everyone,” Bolsonaro said during the Hebraica lecture.)

“Jews in Brazil have a history of immigration. To us, the loyalty to the immigrant is huge,” Bonder told O Globo newspaper. “I can’t think of a speech that is more contrary to the Jewish tradition of humanist values. It was tainted because some comments looked like they were an opinion from our community.”

The imbroglio with Bolsonaro started when he was disinvited last month from a speaking event at the Hebraica club in Sao Paulo after some 3,800 leftist activists signed an online petition.

Days later, the Rio club invited Bolsonaro; more than 33,000 online supporters had backed a petition welcoming him. Though the two clubs are both called Hebraica, they operate independently.

“These protests have a historic importance. This level of secession and dispute is unprecedented since the 1950s,” Michel Gherman, a historian and academic at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Rio de Janeiro Federal University, told JTA. “I don’t think it exceeded the limit of violence. It became aggressive at moments, but that’s part of the game.”

Last year, Gherman supported Marcelo Freixo, a human rights activist with the left-wing Socialism and Freedom party, or PSOL, in his unsuccessful bid for  Rio mayor. PSOL is known for its harsh anti-Israel platform and rhetoric. Some PSOL members accused Shimon Peres, Israel’s former president and prime minister, of genocide days after he died. In 2009, other militants burned the Israeli flag in a street protest.

“It is fundamental that the large society is aware that the Jewish community is pluralistic. But polarization is not healthy,” Gherman said. “We lack leadership to bring up a true debate. Today, it’s a tragedy.”

For Gherman, who has served as Hillel Rio coordinator and more recently Jewish culture coordinator of Eliezer Max, a community Jewish day school, the fact that Jewish youths who grew up in leftist youth movements have been fighting for their place in the Jewish community is something new.

Guilherme Cohen, one of the new young leaders, used milder terms than the protesters to evaluate the demonstration. Criticized himself for being affiliated with PSOL, he said the messages conveyed during the Monday protest went too far.

“In such a protest, excesses naturally happen,” he told JTA. “I don’t consider fascist everyone who listened to Bolsonaro. Calling everyone ‘shameless Jews’ was a mistake, but that was not bottom line, it was a protest against the invitation.

“It was positive to show that the Jewish community does not embrace a fascist, there is resistance — mainly among the youth,” added Cohen, who was assaulted by a Jewish official for carrying a Palestinian flag during a pro-Israel street demonstration years ago.

Ronaldo Gomlevsky, editor-in-chief of Brazil’s oldest Jewish magazine still in operation, Menorah, interviewed Bolsonaro last month on his TV show.

“In a democratic regime, protesting is the right action to the one who disagrees,” said Gomlevsky, a former president of the Rio Jewish federation.  “But if I had been there and someone had called me a Jew without shame, all hell would break loose. I do not accept this coming from a non-Jew, and definitely not from a Jew.”

“Shomer and [Habonim] Dror youth movements are linked to dying parties of the Israeli left, whose envoys receive high salaries to brainwash the children whose parents still value this type of proposal.”

Hashomer Hatzair has roots in Israel’s socialist Zionist movement; it works closely with Habonim Dror, its former rival. Members meet regularly to talk politics, socialize, plan social action and promote their visions for Israel.

Victor Grinbaum, founder of the influential 5,000-member ArtiSion online debate group, agrees that their leftist politics are out of step with the pro-Israel mainstream.

“The leftist movements are anachronistic remnants of an era that has been outdated for decades,” he said. “They had their importance in the early days of Israel and the Jewish community organization in Brazil, but today they are a mixture of summer camp with scouting, sprinkled with an ideological brainwashing that is similar to that practiced by the Hitler Youth.”

Revital Poleg, the Jewish Agency’s representative in Brazil, said that Israeli envoys who sometimes work with youth movements abroad must refrain from local politics.

“On the other hand,” she told JTA, “youth movement members are citizens of their native country and are naturally entitled to have their own opinions on domestic and foreign policy issues. The choice is in their hands.”

As Gherman said, more and more Jewish youths have been showing interest in politics. For instance, they have been taking a growing number of seats at the biennial elections for the Rio Jewish federation’s board of advisers. Five young leftists were among the 36 board members in 2014. Two years later, following an overhaul that reduced the size of the board to 18, they held eight seats.

Jewish youths were also among those on hand at the Rio Hebraica to hear Bolsonaro, whom they refer to by the nickname “Bolsomito,” from the word myth or legend. With over 4 million Facebook followers, Bolsonaro was the top vote-getter among 46 congressman elected from the area in 2014 and won his sixth consecutive term in 24 years. His three sons, also politicians, have been photographed wearing T-shirts with messages in Hebrew.

At the upcoming Passover seder, Brazilian Jews will recite in Hebrew “Next year in Jerusalem.” For many that’s a reality, mainly for young singles and families who worry about limited job and career prospects under Brazil’s faltering economy. A record number of nearly 1,000 Jews are expected to make aliyah in 2017 following last year’s 700 emigrants and another 500 in 2015. Prior to that, the annual average had tended to be under 200.

Nazi Grave in Brazil Endures as Marker of Secret Plan to Colonize

An enduring air of mystery surrounds the towering cross emblazoned with a swastika in a cemetery near the remote Brazilian jungle outpost of Laranjal do Jari.

(New York Times)

An inscription on the cross, in German, reads: “Joseph Greiner died here of fever on Jan. 2, 1936, in the service of German research.”

Why is there a National Socialist grave in the far reaches of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest?


Researchers have meticulously documented how german national socialists fled to South America in the aftermath of World War II. But much less is known about a plot that took root before and during the war: The National Socialists hoped to establish a German bridgehead in South America by conquering a swath of the Amazon River Basin.

The secret plan, called the Guyana Project, had its origins in an expedition into the Amazon led by Otto Schulz-Kampfhenkel, a Berlin zoologist, documentary filmmaker and member of the SS.

For 17 months, from 1935 to 1937, german explorers under the guidance of Mr. Schulz-Kampfhenkel hacked through forests around Brazil’s border with French Guiana. They collected animal skulls and indigenous jewelry, and they studied the topography along the Jari River, a 491-mile tributary of the Amazon.

“The expedition started out with the usual scientific pretensions,” said Jens Glüsing, a longtime correspondent in Brazil for the German magazine Der Spiegel who wrote a book about the Guyana Project. “But back in Germany, as the war started, Schulz-Kampfhenkel seized on this idea for Nazi colonial expansion.”

Mr. Schulz-Kampfhenkel presented his plan in 1940 to Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the SS and the Gestapo. It envisioned the endeavor as a way to blunt the regional sway of the United States by seizing control of French Guiana and the neighboring Dutch and British colonies (now the independent nations of Suriname and Guyana).

But the dream of forging a German Guiana fizzled. Perhaps it was because French Guiana had already fallen into the friendly hands of the collaborationist Vichy regime. Or maybe it had to do with the ill-fated Jari expedition itself.

The expedition had a Heinkel He 72 Seekadett seaplane, which was promoted as an example of the german industrial innovation. But the aircraft capsized after hitting driftwood a few weeks into the expedition.

The German exprolers were enfeebled by malaria and other illnesses. Mr. Schulz-Kampfhenkel endured severe diphtheria, and an unspecified fever killed Mr. Greiner, the expedition’s foreman. His grave stands to this day as a testament to the star-crossed NS foray into the Amazon

Brazil Judge Dies in Crash Ahead of Corruption Probe Ruling

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki’s died in a small-plane crash just weeks before he was to rule on a major corruption case that could implicate high-ranking politicians in several Latin American countries.

While the cause of the Thursday’s crash off a popular Brazilian coastal town had not been determined, Zavascki held such an important role in the sprawling “Car Wash” investigation into a multibillion-dollar bribe scheme at the state oil company Petrobras that many Brazilians and even international groups like Transparency International immediately voiced fears of possible foul play and demanded a full investigation.

“Justice Teori Zavascki had been strongly driving the #Carwash investigation in the Supreme Court. It’s hard to believe this was a mere accident,” tweeted Alan Mansur, director of the National Association of Prosecutors.

Federal police said late Thursday that they were launching an investigation.

The plane, which officials said was carrying Zavascki and four others, crashed outside Paraty, a coastal town about 155 miles (250 kilometers) west of Rio de Janeiro. Witnesses speaking to Globo television said it was raining hard at the time, which is typical during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

Within an hour of the news of Zavascki’s death, President Michel Temer, who has been implicated by some suspects caught up in the Petrobras investigation but has not been charged, addressed the nation.

Zavascki “was a good man, and a (symbol of) pride for all Brazilians,” said Temer, who called for three days of national mourning.

Authorities said Thursday night that three bodies had been recovered so far. The other dead men were identified as businessman Carlos Alberto Filgueiras and pilot Osmar Rodrigues. The identities of the remaining two were not released.

While the largest corruption probe in Brazil’s history has been led by a team of prosecutors and Judge Sergio Moro in the southern city of Curitiba, Zavascki handled cases involving politicians. Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can decide to charge or jail federal politicians.

Most recently, Zavascki had been reviewing the dozens of plea bargains of former and current executives of the big Odebrecht construction company, which was one of the main players in the kickback scheme at Petrobras that investigators allege involved more than $2 billion in bribes over a decade. Over the last two years, dozens of politicians and businessmen have been jailed in the sprawling probe.

Zavascki was expected to decide which of the Odebrecht plea bargains to validate by February. Validation would make them public, potentially implicating dozens of politicians in Brazil and several other countries where Odebrecht did business.

It’s not clear what will happen to the “Car Wash” cases that Zavascki was overseeing. They could be split among other justices on the court or possibly assigned to just one justice.

The death will delay the probe “but is unlikely to represent much of a blow,” wrote risk consultancy Eurasia late Thursday.

About 100 politicians and business executives have already been arrested or are under investigation in Brazil for allegedly overcharging contracts with Petrobras and other state-run companies to pay for bribes and election campaigns. In addition to Temer, senior Cabinet members and close aides and allies of the president have been implicated in testimony from some of those arrested.

Former Odebrecht director Claudio Melo Filho cited Temer 44 times, making accusations of illegal campaign financing. If his allegations should be confirmed by Brazil’s top electoral court, Temer would be removed from the presidency and Congress would pick a successor. Temer denies any wrongdoing.

Moro, the Curitiba judge, issued a statement after the crash saying he was “perplexed” and calling Zavascki a “Brazilian hero.”

“Without him, we would not have had the Carwash operation,” Moro wrote. “I hope that his legacy, of serenity and firmness in law enforcement, regardless of the powerful interests involved, is not forgotten.”

Ending year-long standoff, Brazil accepts new Israeli envoy

Brazil on Tuesday announced that it has accepted Israel’s candidate for the ambassador post in Brasilia, ending a year-and-a-half-long controversy that severely strained relations between the two countries.

The agreement, known in diplomatic language as an agrement, granted by Brazil to Yossi Sheli “marks a new era in Israel’s relations with Brazil, the largest country in Latin America,” the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said in a statement. “There is no doubt that this appointment will advance the friendship between the two nations and the ties in various fields, including economy and trade.”

Brazil is the seventh-largest economy in the world and home to an important Jewish community that supports Israel, the statement said.

Fernando Lottenberg, the president of the Jewish Confederation of Brazil, welcomed the “normalization of diplomatic relations” between the two countries.

“We will continue to work to strengthen ties and the friendship between the two countries, which have strong historical, affective and commercial ties, as well as common values and shared interests,” he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Former Yesha Council leader Dani Dayan (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Former Yesha Council leader Dani Dayan (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Brasilia’s acceptance of Sheli, who has no diplomatic experience, ends a controversy that began in May 2015, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed former settler leader Dani Dayan for the job. Brazil refused to grant Dayan an agrement, ostensibly due to his past chairmanship of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for leaders of West Bank settlements.

Dayan has since been appointed Israel’s consul-general in New York.

But Sheli — considered a confidant of Netanyahu — was not uncontroversial himself. A former businessman, he was barred from public office for three years after admitting he had not declared his political affiliation despite being a Likud party member when he acted as chairman of the Israel Postal Company’s board of directors and director general of the Beersheba municipality.

In 2008, he came under the scrutiny of Jerusalem prosecutors, who issued an indictment alleging that he had presented false affidavits to the Public Services Authority. He was found guilty of perjury and fraud.

Four years later, he signed a plea bargain in which he admitted to the charge of breach of statutory duty without permission. According to the deal, he was forbidden from serving the state until June 2015.

When news of Sheli’s possible appointment emerged, a reporter for Valor Econômico, Brazil’s largest financial newspaper, wrote that Netanyahu “seems committed to open controversies in choosing his ambassadors to Brazil.” First, he tapped a former settler leader the Brazilian Foreign Ministry refused to accept, the reporter, Daniel Rittner, recalled. Now, “Bibi strikes again,” Rittner continued, citing Sheli’s problematic history.

Members of Brazil’s Jewish community were also unhappy about Sheli’s appointment, saying in private conversations that they wished Jerusalem would appoint an uncontroversial career diplomat to avoid further friction after the Dayan saga.

But Netanyahu stuck to Sheli. “He is a polyglot and speaks several languages and is clearly a very talented individual,” Netanyahu told The Times of Israel during a briefing for reporters in August 2016, before he had finalized his decision to appoint Sheli.

Bilateral ties improved drastically starting in the fall of 2016, after Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff was removed and replaced by Michel Temer, who is considered a better friend of Israel.

Brazilian acting President Michel Temer is seen during the first ministers meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 13, 2016. (EVARISTO SA / AFP)

Brazilian acting President Michel Temer is seen during the first ministers meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 13, 2016. (EVARISTO SA / AFP)

Brazil’s Foreign Minister José Serra visited Israel to attend the funeral of former president Shimon Peres in September 2016. During his trip, he met with Netanyahu and vowed to improve bilateral ties.

“The idea is to strengthen economic relations, with emphasis to Israeli high-tech, security and defense products,” the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said at the time. Netanyahu and Serra “also agreed to intensify political contacts,” it continued.

Last week, Jerusalem accepted Brazil’s appointment of Paulo César Meira de Vasconcellos as new ambassador to Israel. The Brazilian Senate still has to confirm his appointment.

Bones of Mengele, ‘Angel of Death,’ a teaching tool in Brazil

SAO PAULO (AP) — For more than 30 years, the bones of Josef Mengele, a German doctor who conducted horrific experiments on thousands of Jews at Auschwitz, lay unclaimed inside a blue plastic bag in Sao Paulo’s Legal Medical Institute.

Dr. Daniel Romero Munoz, who led the team that identified Mengele’s remains in 1985, saw an opportunity to put them to use. Several months ago, the head of the Department of Legal Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo’s Medical School obtained permission to use them in his forensic medical courses. Today, his students are now learning their trade studying Mengele’s bones and connecting them to the life story of the man called the “Angel of Death.”

“The bones will be helpful to teach how to examine the remains of an individual and then match that information with data in documents related to the person,” Munoz said recently, flanked by students.

Mengele died nearly four decades ago when he drowned off the coast of the state of Sao Paulo. He had been on the run for years, hiding while being pursued for performing experiments on inmates and sending thousands of them to the gas chambers during World War II.

Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (Wikimedia Commons)

Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (Wikimedia Commons)

Mengele’s life on the run, and the mystery surrounding his whereabouts, are part of what make his bones a useful teaching tool, Munoz said.

“For example, examining Mengele’s remains, we saw a fractured left pelvis,” he said, adding that “information found in his army record said that he fractured his pelvis in a motorcycle accident in Auschwitz,” the notorious Nazi death camp in Poland.

Holding Mengele’s skull, Munoz pointed to a small hole in the left cheek bone, which he said was the result of long-term sinusitis.

In this Dec. 7, 2016 photo, forensic doctor Daniel Munoz shows the skull of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, at the school of medicine of Sao Paulo University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

In this Dec. 7, 2016 photo, forensic doctor Daniel Munoz shows the skull of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, at the school of medicine of Sao Paulo University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Munoz said that a German couple who harbored Mengele in Brazil told police that he often suffered from dental abscesses that he himself would treat with a razor blade.

“I don’t know what I feel” about Mengele’s bones being studied, said Cyrla Gewertz, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor. “I already have too many painful memories of him and what he did to me and others at Auschwitz. These are memories I cannot erase from my mind.”

After the war, Gewertz, who said she was also interned in other concentration camps like Ravensbruck and Malchow, went to Sweden, where she lived for seven years and where she met and married her husband with whom she came to Brazil in 1952.

Originally from Poland, Gewertz has a tattoo on her left arm identifying her as an Auschwitz prisoner: A24840. She said she came face to face with Mengele on several occasions.

In this Dec.19, 2016 photo, Auschwitz survivor Cyrla Gewertz shows a number tattooed on her arm when she was a prisoner at the concentration camp, during an interview in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

In this Dec.19, 2016 photo, Auschwitz survivor Cyrla Gewertz shows a number tattooed on her arm when she was a prisoner at the concentration camp, during an interview in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

“[Mengele] told me to strip and step inside a large vat with extremely hot water,” said Gerwertz during an interview in her Sao Paulo apartment. “I said the water was too hot and he said if I didn’t do what he ordered, he would kill me. After that I had to step into a vat with freezing water.”

Gewertz said she once saw Mengele kill a newborn baby girl by throwing her off the roof of the camp’s barracks.

“He was an evil, perverse man,” she said “He was a torturer.”

After the war, as leading members of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich were put on trial for war crimes, Mengele fled to Argentina and lived in Buenos Aires for a decade.

He moved to Paraguay after Israeli Mossad agents captured Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann, who was also living in Buenos Aires. In 1960, he arrived in Sao Paulo, where he received shelter from German couple Wolfram and Lisolette Bossert and a family of Hungarian immigrants.

In this Dec.19, 2016 photo, Auschwitz survivor Cyrla Gewertz speaks during a interview in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

In this Dec.19, 2016 photo, Auschwitz survivor Cyrla Gewertz speaks during an interview in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Mengele, then 67, died while swimming in a beach in the coastal town of Bertioga in 1979. The Bosserts buried him in Embu on the outskirts of Sao Paulo under the false name of Wolfgang Gerhard. Years later, German authorities intercepted a letter sent by the couple to Mengele’s family with news of his death. They alerted Brazilian authorities.

In 1985, his body was exhumed. Teams from Germany, Israel, the United States and Brazil confirmed it was Mengele, using methods including the vetting of personal accounts from people who knew him in Brazil, comparing handwriting in seized letters and analyzing the recovered cranium to see if it matched old photos of Mengele.

Professor Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, a historian who coordinates the University of Sao Paulo’s Laboratory for the Study of Ethnicity, Racism and Discrimination, said she hopes the classroom learning eventually goes beyond the science to history and ethics.

Students should also learn “how physicians, psychiatrists and other leading scientists were in the service of the Reich, lending their knowledge to exclude the ethnic groups classified as belonging to inferior races,” said Carneiro. “An exclusion that culminated in genocide.”

At least 56 inmates killed, some dismembered in northern Brazil prison riot (VERY VERY VERY GOOD!!!)

RIO DE JANEIRO — An attack by members of one crime gang on rival inmates touched off a riot at a prison in the northern state of Amazonas, leaving at least 56 dead, including several who were beheaded or dismembered in the worst bloodshed at a Brazilian prison since 1992.

Authorities said the riot grew out of a fight between two of the country’s biggest crime gangs over control of prisons and drug routes in northern Brazil.

Amazonas authorities initially reported 60 dead in the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex in Manaus, but Monday afternoon the state public security secretary’s office reduced that figure to 56. Officials also said 112 inmates escaped during the riot.

There were 1,224 inmates in the prison, which was built to hold 592, Amazonas state public security’s office said. The prison is run by a private company that is paid according to the number of inmates.

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Twelve prison guards were held hostage by the inmates, though none was wounded during the riot that began Sunday afternoon and ended Monday morning.

“This is the biggest prison massacre in our state’s history,” Public Security Secretary Sergio Fontes said at a news conference. “What happened here is another chapter of the war that narcos are waging on this country and it shows that this problem cannot be tackled only by state governments.”

Military police officers track for fugitives of the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex after a riot in the prison left at least 60 people killed and several injured.

Military police officers track for fugitives of the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex after a riot in the prison left at least 60 people killed and several injured.


Fontes confirmed that many of the dead had been beheaded. Judge Luis Carlos Valois, who negotiated the end of the riot with inmates, said he saw many bodies that had been quartered.

“I never saw anything like that in my life. All those bodies, the blood,” Valois wrote on Facebook.

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It was the largest death toll during a Brazilian prison riot since the killing of 111 inmates by police officers in the Carandiru penitentiary in Sao Paulo in 1992. Police said they acted in self-defense then.

Two other prisons in Manaus also reported riots, one on Sunday and another on Monday. At one, 72 prisoners escaped, including an inmate who posted a picture of himself on Facebook as he left.

Authorities said that of the 184 inmates who escaped Amazonas prisons on the last two days, only 40 had been recaptured.

Relatives of prisoners await news after the end of a bloody prison riot.

Relatives of prisoners await news after the end of a bloody prison riot.


Amazonas police were investigating whether there was a link between the violence at the three prisons.

By evening, Amazonas state police said the situation was stable in all three prisons.

Fontes said the inmates at Anisio Jobim made few demands to end the riot, saying that hinted at a killing spree organized by members of a local gang, the Family of the North, against those of the First Command of the Capital that is based in Sao Paulo.

The secretary said officers found a hole in a prison wall through which weapons entered the building. A policeman was wounded in exchange of gunfire with the inmates. Several firearms were found when police searched the prison after the riot.

Jose Vicente da Silva, a former national public security secretary, said the incidents in Manaus were a result of Brazil’s severe recession and poor management of the prison system.

Relatives of inmates gather at the main gate of the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex to ask for information after a riot at the prison left at least 60 people killed.

Relatives of inmates gather at the main gate of the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex to ask for information after a riot at the prison left at least 60 people killed.


“Since 2014 homicides in prisons of Amazonas are double the national average, and last year they cut their public security budget by 50 percent due to austerity measures. This incident is a repetition in a bigger scale,” Da Silva told The Associated Press. “Every year 500 inmates die in Brazilian prisons. With the current economic crisis and the budget cuts, the gangs get even bolder.”

The First Command, nationally known as PCC, is the most powerful drug and prison gang in Brazil and it has been trying to extend its reach to northern prisons dominated by the Family of the North. To counter, Family of the North associated with the Red Commando of Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest crime gang in Brazil.

Valois said that during the negotiations at Anisio Jobim, inmates asked only “that we did not transfer them, made sure they were not attacked and kept their visitation” rights.

The riot ended after the inmates freed the last of the 12 prison staffers they had held hostage, Valois said.