How Big Business (Jews And White Freemasons) Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food


FORTALEZA, Brazil — Children’s squeals rang through the muggy morning air as a woman pushed a gleaming white cart along pitted, trash-strewn streets. She was making deliveries to some of the poorest households in this seaside city, bringing pudding, cookies and other packaged foods to the customers on her sales route.

Celene da Silva, 29, is one of thousands of door-to-door vendors for Nestlé, helping the world’s largest packaged food conglomerate expand its reach into a quarter-million households in Brazil’s farthest-flung corners.

As she dropped off variety packs of Chandelle pudding, Kit-Kats and Mucilon infant cereal, there was something striking about her customers: Many were visibly overweight, even small children.

She gestured to a home along her route and shook her head, recalling how its patriarch, a morbidly obese man, died the previous week. “He ate a piece of cake and died in his sleep,” she said.

Mrs. da Silva, who herself weighs more than 200 pounds, recently discovered that she had high blood pressure, a condition she acknowledges is probably tied to her weakness for fried chicken and the Coca-Cola she drinks with every meal, breakfast included.

Mrs. da Silva and other vendors like her make regular deliveries for Nestlé to a quarter of a million households in Brazil.

Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.

A New York Times examination of corporate records, epidemiological studies and government reports — as well as interviews with scores of nutritionists and health experts around the world — reveals a sea change in the way food is produced, distributed and advertised across much of the globe. The shift, many public health experts say, is contributing to a new epidemic of diabetes and heart disease, chronic illnesses that are fed by soaring rates of obesity in places that struggled with hunger and malnutrition just a generation ago.

The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished.

“The prevailing story is that this is the best of all possible worlds — cheap food, widely available. If you don’t think about it too hard, it makes sense,” said Anthony Winson, who studies the political economics of nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario. A closer look, however, reveals a much different story, he said. “To put it in stark terms: The diet is killing us.”

Even critics of processed food acknowledge that there are multiple factors in the rise of obesity, including genetics, urbanization, growing incomes and more sedentary lives. Nestlé executives say their products have helped alleviate hunger, provided crucial nutrients, and that the company has squeezed salt, fat and sugar from thousands of items to make them healthier. But Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.

“We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.

Part of the problem, he added, is a natural tendency for people to overeat as they can afford more food. Nestlé, he said, strives to educate consumers about proper portion size and to make and market foods that balance “pleasure and nutrition.”

There are now more than 700 million obese people worldwide, 108 million of them children, according to research published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine. The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries since 1980, contributing to four million premature deaths, the study found.

Obesity’s Spread Across the World

Obesity rates in the United States, the South Pacific and the Persian Gulf are among the highest in the world — more than one in four Americans is obese. But over the last 35 years, obesity, defined as having a body mass index over 30, has grown the fastest in countries throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia.

In places as distant as China, South Africa and Colombia, the rising clout of big food companies also translates into political influence, stymieing public health officials seeking soda taxes or legislation aimed at curbing the health impacts of processed food.

For a growing number of nutritionists, the obesity epidemic is inextricably linked to the sales of packaged foods, which grew 25 percent worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 10 percent in the United States, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. An even starker shift took place with carbonated soft drinks; sales in Latin America have doubled since 2000, overtaking sales in North America in 2013, the World Health Organization reported.

The same trends are mirrored with fast food, which grew 30 percent worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 21 percent in the United States, according to Euromonitor. Take, for example, Domino’s Pizza, which in 2016 added 1,281 stores — one “every seven hours,” noted its annual report — all but 171 of them overseas.

“At a time when some of the growth is more subdued in established economies, I think that strong emerging-market posture is going to be a winning position,” Mark Schneider, chief executive of Nestlé, recently told investors. Developing markets now provide the company with 42 percent of its sales.

For some companies, that can mean specifically focusing on young people, as Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, described to investors in 2014. “Half the world’s population has not had a Coke in the last 30 days,” he said. “There’s 600 million teenagers who have not had a Coke in the last week. So the opportunity for that is huge.”

Industry defenders say that processed foods are essential to feed a growing, urbanizing world of people, many of them with rising incomes, demanding convenience.

“We’re not going to get rid of all factories and go back to growing all grain. It’s nonsense. It’s not going to work,” said Mike Gibney, a professor emeritus of food and health at University College Dublin and a consultant to Nestlé. “If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?”

In many ways, Brazil is a microcosm of how growing incomes and government policies have led to longer, better lives and largely eradicated hunger. But now the country faces a stark new nutrition challenge: over the last decade, the country’s obesity rate has nearly doubled to 20 percent, and the portion of people who are overweight has nearly tripled to 58 percent. Each year, 300,000 people are diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a condition with strong links to obesity.

Brazil also highlights the food industry’s political prowess. In 2010, a coalition of Brazilian food and beverage companies torpedoed a raft of measures that sought to limit junk food ads aimed at children. The latest challenge has come from the country’s president, Michel Temer, a business-friendly centrist whose conservative allies in Congress are now seeking to chip away at the handful of regulations and laws intended to encourage healthy eating.

“What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.

“It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.”

Door-to-Door Delivery

Mrs. da Silva reaches customers in Fortaleza’s slums, many of whom don’t have ready access to a supermarket. She champions the product she sells, exulting in the nutritional claims on the labels that boast of added vitamins and minerals.

“Everyone here knows that Nestlé products are good for you,” she said, gesturing to cans of Mucilon, the infant cereal whose label says it is “packed with calcium and niacin,” but also Nescau 2.0, a sugar-laden chocolate powder.

She became a Nestlé vendor two years ago, when her family of five was struggling to get by. Though her husband is still unemployed, things are looking up. With the $185 a month she earns selling Nestlé products, she was able to buy a new refrigerator, a television and a gas stove for the family’s three-room home at the edge of a fetid tidal marsh.

Mrs. da Silva with some of her children and a cousin in their home in Fortaleza.

The company’s door-to-door program fulfills a concept that Nestlé articulated in its 1976 annual shareholder report, which noted that “integration with the host country is a basic aim of our company.” Started a decade ago in Brazil, the program serves 700,000 “low-income consumers each month,” according to its website. Despite the country’s continuing economic crisis, the program has been growing 10 percent a year, according to Felipe Barbosa, a company supervisor.

He said sagging incomes among poor and working-class Brazilians had actually been a boon for direct sales. That’s because unlike most food retailers, Nestlé gives customers a full month to pay for their purchases. It also helps that saleswomen — the program employs only women — know when their customers receive Bolsa Família, a monthly government subsidy for low-income households.

“The essence of our program is to reach the poor,” Mr. Barbosa said. “What makes it work is the personal connection between the vendor and the customer.”

Nestlé increasingly also portrays itself as a leader in its commitment to community and health. Two decades ago, it anointed itself a “nutrition health and wellness company.” Over the years, the company says it has reformulated nearly 9,000 products to reduce salt, sugar and fat, and it has delivered billions of servings fortified with vitamins and minerals. It emphasizes food safety and the reduction of food waste, and it works with nearly 400,000 farmers around the world to promote sustainable farming.

In an interview at Nestlé’s new $50 million campus in suburban Cleveland, Mr. Westcott, head of food research and development, said the door-to-door sales program reflected another of the company’s slogans: “Creating shared values.”

“We create shared value by creating micro-entrepreneurs — people that can build their own businesses,” he said. A company like Nestlé can bolster the well-being of entire communities “by actually sending positive messages around nutrition,” he said.

Nestlé’s portfolio of foods is vast and different from that of some snack companies, which make little effort to focus on healthy offerings. They include Nesfit, a whole-grain cereal; low-fat yogurts like Molico that contain a relatively modest amount of sugar (six grams); and a range of infant cereals, served with milk or water, that are fortified with vitamins, iron and probiotics.

Some of the Nestlé products on sale at a store near Muaná.

Dr. Gibney, the nutritionist and Nestlé consultant, said the company deserved credit for reformulating healthier products.

But of the 800 products that Nestlé says are available through its vendors, Mrs. da Silva says her customers are mostly interested in only about two dozen of them, virtually all sugar-sweetened items like Kit-Kats; Nestlé Greek Red Berry, a 3.5-ounce cup of yogurt with 17 grams of sugar; and Chandelle Pacoca, a peanut-flavored pudding in a container the same size as the yogurt that has 20 grams of sugar — nearly the entire World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit.

Until recently, Nestlé sponsored a river barge that delivered tens of thousands of cartons of milk powder, yogurt, chocolate pudding, cookies and candy to isolated communities in the Amazon basin. Since the barge was taken out of service in July, private boat owners have stepped in to meet the demand.

“On one hand, Nestlé is a global leader in water and infant formula and a lot of dairy products,” said Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina. “On the other hand, they are going into the backwoods of Brazil and selling their candy.”

Dr. Popkin finds the door-to-door marketing emblematic of an insidious new era in which companies seek to reach every doorstep in an effort to grow and become central to communities in the developing world. “They’re not leaving an inch of country left aside,” he said.

Public health advocates have criticized the company before. In the 1970s, Nestlé was the target of a boycott in the United States for aggressively marketing infant formula in developing countries, which nutritionists said undermined healthful breast-feeding. In 1978, the president of Nestlé Brazil, Oswaldo Ballarin, was called to testify at highly publicized United States Senate hearings on the infant formula issue, and he declared that criticisms were the work of church activity aimed at “undermining the free enterprise system.”

On the streets of Fortaleza, where Nestlé is admired for its Swiss pedigree and perceived high quality, negative sentiments about the company are rarely heard.

The home of Joana D’arc de Vasconcellos, 53, another vendor, is filled with Nestlé-branded stuffed animals and embossed certificates she earned at nutrition classes sponsored by Nestlé. In her living room, pride of place is given to framed photographs of her children at age 2, each posed before a pyramid of empty Nestlé infant formula cans. As her son and daughter grew up, she switched to other Nestlé products for children: Nido Kinder, a toddler milk powder; Chocapic, a chocolate-flavored cereal; and the chocolate milk powder Nescau.

Joana D’arc de Vasconcellos with pictures of her daughter, Vittoria, and Nestlé products.

Ms. de Vasconcellos, right, has diabetes and high blood pressure. Vittoria, 17, has high blood pressure and weighs nearly 300 pounds.

“When he was a baby, my son didn’t like to eat — until I started giving him Nestlé foods,” she said proudly.

Ms. de Vasconcellos has diabetes and high blood pressure. Her 17-year-old daughter, who weighs more than 250 pounds, has hypertension and polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder strongly linked to obesity. Many other relatives have one or more ailments often associated with poor diets: her mother and two sisters (diabetes and hypertension), and her husband (hypertension.) Her father died three years ago after losing his feet to gangrene, a complication of diabetes.

“Every time I go to the public health clinic, the line for diabetics is out the door,” she said. “You’d be hard pressed to find a family here that doesn’t have it.”

Ms. de Vasconcellos previously tried selling Tupperware and Avon products door to door, but many customers failed to pay. Six years ago, after a friend told her about Nestlé’s direct sales program, Ms. Vasconcellos jumped at the chance.

She says her customers have never failed to pay her.

“People have to eat,” she said.

Industry Muscles In

In May 2000, Denise Coitinho, then director of nutrition for the Ministry of Health, was at a Mother’s Day party at her children’s school when her mobile phone rang. It was Nestlé’s chief of government relations. “He was really upset,” she recalled.

The source of Nestlé’s concern was a new policy that Brazil had adopted and was pushing at the World Health Organization. If adopted, the policy would have recommended that children around the world breast-feed for six months, rather than the previous recommendation of four to six months, she said.

“Two months may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot of revenue. It’s a lot of selling,” said Ms. Coitinho, who left her position in 2004 and is now an independent nutrition consultant to, among others, the United Nations. In the end, infant food companies succeeded in stalling the policy for a year, she said. Asked about her story, Nestlé said that it “believes breast milk is the ideal nutrition for babies” and that it supports and promotes the W.H.O. guidelines.

It is hard to overstate the economic power and political access enjoyed by food and beverage conglomerates in Brazil, which are responsible for 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and employ 1.6 million people.

In 2014, food companies donated $158 million to members of Brazil’s National Congress, a threefold increase over 2010, according to Transparency International Brazil. A study the organization released last year found that more than half of Brazil’s current federal legislators had been elected with donations from the food industry – before the Supreme Court banned corporate contributions in 2015.

The single largest donor to congressional candidates was the Brazilian meat giant JBS, which gave candidates $112 million in 2014; Coca-Cola gave $6.5 million in campaign contributions that year, and McDonald’s donated $561,000.

A greeter at a McDonald’s in São Paulo. The company gave $561,000 to congressional candidates in 2014.

So the stage was set for a mammoth political battle when, in 2006, the government sought to enact far-reaching food-industry regulations to curb obesity and disease. The measures, growing out of the earlier breast-feeding policy, included advertising alerts to warn consumers about foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats, as well as marketing restrictions to dampen the lure of highly processed foods and sugary beverages, especially those aimed at children.

Taking a page from the government’s successful efforts to limit tobacco marketing, the new rules would have barred brands like Pepsi and KFC from sponsoring sports and cultural events.

“We thought that Brazil could be a model for the rest of the world, a country that puts the well-being of its citizens above all else,” said Dirceu Raposo de Mello, then director of the government’s health surveillance agency, widely known by the Portuguese acronym Anvisa. “Unfortunately, the food industry did not feel the same way.”

Loading a boat in Belém, Brazil, with Nestlé products bound for Muaná.

Candy and chocolate bars at a small grocery store in São Paulo.

Ana Cláudia Caranha and her son, Gabriel, returning from a store in Muaná, where they bought food for the week, including a number of Nestlé products.

The food companies took a low profile, mustering behind the Brazilian Association of Food Industries, a lobbying group whose board of vice presidents included executives from Nestlé; the American meat giant Cargill; and Unilever, the European food conglomerate that owns brands like Hellmann’s, Mazola oil and Ben & Jerry’s. The association declined to comment for this article.

During the early days of public hearings, the industry seemed to be negotiating the rules in good faith but behind the scenes, health advocates say corporate lawyers and lobbyists were quietly waging a multipronged campaign to derail the process.

Industry-financed academics began appearing on TV to assail the rules as economically ruinous. Other experts wrote newspaper editorial pieces suggesting that exercise and stricter parenting might be more effective than regulations aimed at fighting childhood obesity.

The industry’s most potent rallying cry, analysts say, was its strident denunciation of the proposed advertising restrictions as censorship. The accusation had particular resonance given the nearly two decades of military dictatorship that ended in 1985.

At one meeting, a representative from the food industry accused Anvisa of trying to subvert parental authority, saying mothers had the right to decide what to feed their children, recalled Vanessa Schottz, a nutrition advocate. In another meeting, she said, a toy industry representative stood up and assailed the proposed marketing rules, saying they would deprive Brazilian children of the toys that sometimes accompany fast-food meals. “He said we were killing the dreams of children,” Ms. Schottz recalled. “We were dumbfounded.”

Chastened by the industry criticism, Anvisa in late 2010 withdrew most of the proposed restrictions. What remained was a single proposal requiring that ads include a warning about unhealthy food and beverages.

Then came the lawsuits.

Over the course of several months, a disparate collection of industry groups filed 11 lawsuits against Anvisa. The plaintiffs included the national association of biscuit manufacturers, the corn growers lobby and an alliance of chocolate, cocoa and candy companies. Some of the lawsuits claimed that the regulations violated constitutional protections on free speech, while others said the agency did not have the standing to regulate the food and advertising industries.

Buying Nestlé cereals in a supermarket in São Paulo.

Although health advocates say the litigation was not entirely unexpected, they were blindsided by the response of the federal government’s top lawyer, Attorney General Luís Inácio Adams, a presidential appointee. Shortly after the proposed rules were officially published in June 2010, Mr. Adams sided with the industry. A few weeks later, a federal court suspended the regulations, citing his written opinion, which suggested that Anvisa did not have the authority to regulate the food and advertising industries. Mr. Adams declined to comment for this article.

Mr. Raposo de Mello, the former Anvisa president, says he was stunned by Mr. Adam’s change of heart, given the attorney general office’s longstanding support for Anvisa. Seven years later, with most of the 11 lawsuits still unresolved, the regulations remain frozen.

“The industry,” Mr. Raposo de Mello said, “did an end run around the system.”

In the meantime, the food and beverage industry became more aggressive as it sought to neutralize Anvisa, which it viewed as its greatest adversary.

In 2010, in the midst of the battle against the agency’s proposed regulations, a group of 156 business executives took its grievances to the campaign of Dilma Rousseff, who was running for president.

Marcello Fragano Baird, a political scientist in São Paulo who has studied the food lobby’s campaign against the nutrition regulations, said Ms. Rousseff assured the executives she would shake up Anvisa. “She promised them she would ‘clean house’ once elected,” he said, adding that he learned about the encounter through interviews with participants.

Ms. Rouseff won, and soon after her inauguration, she replaced Mr. Raposo de Mello with Jaime César de Moura Oliveira, a longtime political ally and a former lawyer for the Brazilian subsidiary of the food giant Unilever.

From left: Michel Temer, the president of Brazil; Dirceu Raposo de Mello, former director of Anvisa; Jaime César de Moura Oliveira, his successor; Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil who replaced Mr. Raposo de Mello; Luis Ignacio Adams, the attorney general of Brazil. From left: Adriano Machado/Reuters; Agência Brasil; Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil; Apu Gomes/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images; Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

A spokesman for Ms. Rouseff declined to make her available for an interview.

In 2012, Anvisa hosted a traveling anti-obesity exhibit at its offices. Titled “Lose Weight Brazil,” the exhibit extolled exercise and moderation as the keys to tackling obesity, but largely ignored mainstream scientific evidence about the dangers of consuming too much sugar, soda and processed food.

The exhibition’s sponsor? Coca-Cola.

Irresistible Foods, Fatty Diets

More than 1,000 miles south of Fortaleza, the effects of changing eating habits are evident at a brightly painted day care center in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. Each day, more than a hundred children pack classrooms, singing the alphabet, playing and taking group naps.

When it was started in the early 1990s, the program, run by a Brazilian nonprofit group, had a straightforward mission: to alleviate undernutrition among children who were not getting enough to eat in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

These days many of those who attend are noticeably pudgy and, the staff nutritionists note, some are worryingly short for their age, the result of diets heavy in salt, fat and sugar but lacking in the nourishment needed for healthy development.

The program, run by the Center for Nutritional Recovery and Education, includes prediabetic 10-year-olds with dangerously fatty livers, adolescents with hypertension and toddlers so poorly nourished they have trouble walking.

“We are even getting babies, which is something we never saw before,” said Giuliano Giovanetti, who does outreach and communications for the center. “It’s a crisis for our society because we are producing a generation of children with impaired cognitive abilities who will not reach their full potential.”

Nearly 9 percent of Brazilian children were obese in 2015, more than a 270 percent increase since 1980, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. That puts it in striking distance of the United States, where 12.7 percent of children were obese in 2015.

The figures are even more alarming in the communities served by the center: In some neighborhoods, 30 percent of the children are obese and another 30 percent malnourished, according to the organization’s own data, which found that 6 percent of obese children were also malnourished.

Children at the Center for Nutrition Recovery and Education with signs that say “Yum” after eating a cake made with fruit.

The rising obesity rates are largely associated with improved economics, as families with increasing incomes embrace the convenience, status and flavors offered by packaged foods.

Busy parents ply their toddlers with instant noodles and frozen chicken nuggets, meals that are often accompanied by soda. Rice, beans, salad and grilled meats — building blocks of the traditional Brazilian diet — are falling by the wayside, studies have found.

Compounding the problem is the rampant street violence that keeps young children cooped up indoors.

“It’s just too dangerous to let my kids play outside, so they spend all their free time sitting on the couch playing video games and watching TV,” said Elaine Pereira dos Santos, 35, the mother of two children, 9 and 4 years old, both overweight.

Isaac, the 9-year-old, weighs 138 pounds and can wear only clothing intended for adolescents. Ms. dos Santos, who works at a hospital pharmacy, shortens the pants legs for him.

Like many Brazilian mothers, she was pleased when Isaac began to gain weight as a toddler, not long after he tasted his first McDonald’s French fry. “I always thought fatter is better when it comes to babies,” she said. She happily indulged his eating habits, which included frequent trips to fast-food outlets and almost no fruits and vegetables.

But when he began having trouble running and complained about achy knees, Ms. dos Santos knew something was wrong. “The hardest part is the ridicule he gets from other children,” she said. “When we go out shopping, even adults point and stare” or call him gordinho, roughly translated to “little fatty.”

Isaac Pereira dos Santos, 9, weighs 138 pounds and can wear only clothing intended for teens.

Isaac eating salad at home. His mother, Elaine Pereira dos Santos, has been making him healthier meals.

At the São Paulo nursery, health care workers keep tabs on the children’s physical and cognitive development, while nutritionists teach parents how to prepare inexpensive, healthy meals. For some children, the center’s test kitchen provides their first introduction to cabbage, plums and mangos.

One of the fundamental challenges is persuading parents that their children are sick. “Unlike cancer or other illnesses, this is a disability you can’t see,” said Juliana Dellare Calia, 42, a nutritionist with the organization.

Although staff members say the program has made significant strides in changing the way families eat, many children will nonetheless face a lifelong battle with obesity. That’s because a growing body of research suggests that childhood malnutrition can lead to permanent metabolic changes, reprogramming the body so that it more readily turns excess calories into body fat.

“It’s the body’s response to what’s perceived as starvation,” Ms. Dellare Calia said.

Money Talks

Even as nutrition experts bemoan the growing obesity crisis — and the potential long-term medical costs — one aspect of Brazil’s processed food revolution is undeniable: The industry’s expansion provides economic benefits to people up and down the ladder. Nestlé, which says it employs 21,000 people in Brazil, two years ago started an apprenticeship programthat has trained 7,000 people under 30.

Near the bottom of the food chain is Mrs. da Silva, the vendor in Fortaleza, who feels optimistic about the future despite her mounting health woes. Life has been a struggle since she dropped out of school at 14 when she became pregnant with her first child. Now she talks about fixing the missing teeth that mar her tentative smile and buying a proper home, one that does not leak during heavy rains.

She has Nestlé to thank.

“For the first time in my life, I feel a sense of hope and independence,” she said.

Nestlé products waited for a saleswoman to deliver them to homes in Fortaleza.

She is aware of the connection between her diet and her persistent health problems, but insists that her children are well nourished, gesturing to the Nestlé products in her living room. Being a Nestlé vendor has another advantage: the cookies, chocolate and puddings that often sustain her family are bought wholesale.

With an expanding roster of customers, Mrs. da Silva has set her sights on a new goal, one she says will increase business even more.

“I want to buy a bigger refrigerator.”


Leftist Jewish youth groups in Rio boycott Israeli folk dance festival

RIO DE JANEIRO — Three leftist Jewish youth movements have refused to attend Brazil’s longest running Israeli dance festival in retaliation for a lecture given by a right-wing politician at a mainstream Jewish center five months ago.

Chazit Hanoar, Habonim Dror and Hashomer Hatzair say their unprecedented boycott of the 47th annual Hava Netze Bemachol festival is meant to protest Jair Bolsonaro’s speech at the Rio Hebraica center in April.

Bolsonaro, a prominent pro-Israel congressman, is known as a defender of the far right-wing military dictatorship that ran Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Sao Paulo’s Hebraica had previously disinvited him.

“Hebraica staged one of the most aggressive hate speeches ever expressed to the Jewish community in recent years, with words of appeal to xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, ethnocentrism, dictatorship and political impunity,” Hashomer Hatzair said in a statement.

“Such an expression of intolerance directly hurt us when they hamper the work carried out weekly by our activists in order to propagate ideals of tolerance to young people who participate in the movement.”

An audience of 300 attended the speech by Bolsonaro, a Social Christian Party member and a presidential candidate in 2018. A group of far-left activists picketed at the venue’s door, calling the audience “shameless Jews” and “Jews without memory.”

Bolsonaro defends a zero-tolerance approach to fight Rio’s high violence rates including arming the population, and his nationalism and unguarded rhetoric have earned him comparisons to Donald Trump.

Hebraica leaders suggested the youth groups were radicalized by their counselors from Israel.

“The ‘tnuot’ (movements) are shooting themselves in the foot by not dancing. They are mixing culture with politics,” Rio Hebraica’s president, Luiz Mairovitch, told JTA. “This generation will only understand it far ahead. The ‘shlichim’ [counselors] from Israel should be doing a pro-Israel job and not sticking things into these youths’ heads [things] that they shouldn’t.”

Mairovitch noted that Bnei Akiva, the religious youth group, and Beitar, the right-wing group, will attend the event.

The boycott has frustrated dozens of teenage dancers who had been rehearsing their choreography for several months. Rio’s festival, scheduled for Friday to Sunday, is 10 years older than the Sao Paulo-based Carmel festival, one of the largest annual Israeli folk dance events held outside Israel. Both events bring together thousands of dancers and spectators who enjoy a weekend of performances and learning sessions.

“We have the greatest cultural and ethnic mosaic of dance that has never been seen in any other people,” the acclaimed choreographer and teacher Luiz Filipe Barbosa told JTA. “There is a big mistake in our community. Dance has become a weapon and is being used for political Brazilian manifestations.

“What is happening today is young Jews turning against Jews, against Jewish tradition, against Jewish customs, against a Jewish institution. The result was the segregation of our community and the assassination attempt on our major Jewish event,” added Barbosa, a former member of Habonim Dror, whose dance groups he has led several times.

For the Rio Jewish federation, the festival belongs to the whole community and goes beyond quarrels.

“We cannot oblige the institutions to do or not to do something,” the federation’s president, Herry Rosenberg, told JTA. “We have met with the club and we have met with the movements to stress the importance of participating and cheering, but it’s eventually their decision and we respect them, they have the right to decide what is good for them.”

Swastika spray-painted on statue of Brazil’s first black clown

RIO DE JANEIRO — A statue honoring Brazil’s first black clown was vandalized with a swastika at a public park.

Police have no suspects in the vandalism this week of the statue of Benjamin de Oliveira in the countryside city of Para de Minas.

Known as the most famous clown in Brazil in the first half of the 20th century, de Oliveira created the circus-theater in the country. He was born in 1870 as a slave and as a free citizen worked as an actor, composer and singer. Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888.

“The clown has always been a symbol of resistance against prejudice, discrimination and racism, ridiculing his persecutors through humor,” Brazilian Rabbi Uri Lam told JTA. “No wonder great comedians and clowns were Jews, blacks or gypsies. Hatred will not jeopardize dialogue, coexistence and the rich exchange between religious and ethnic communities.”

The culture secretary in Para de Minas told the G1 news website said the municipality “is making every effort to reach out and find the perpetrator of this act of vandalism.”

Jewish community jumping ship as political storm takes Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Over the last three years, Brazil’s usually lighthearted Carnival culture has been darkened by a political and economic crisis that has turned into the longest recession in the country’s history.

In an attempt to root out the rot plaguing Brazil’s core, Operation Car Wash has exposed corruption at the highest political levels. Led by Attorney Sérgio Moro, a modern-day Eliot Ness, it is one of the deepest-running investigations of its kind.

Besides taking to the streets and social media in protest, the public’s only outlet is watching their politicians get butchered in the media — but still, average citizens continue to endure most of the fallout from the crisis.

Brazilian Jews share the same fate as everyone else in Latin America’s largest, most populous and economically developed country. Most of them fall into the middle class, an economic tier becoming more impoverished by the day since the onset of the record-setting two-year recession.

Last year’s impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff and the recent sentencing to nine-and-a-half years in prison for her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — known simply as Lula — have cast a pall over Brazil.

Bruno Laskowsky, president of the Jewish Federation of São Paulo. (Courtesy)

Lula was charged for corruption and money laundering, and Rousseff was either involved or failed to put an end to it. Now, serious accusations against the current president, Michel Temer, are adding fuel to the fire.

Rounding out the bleak scenario are the widespread arrests of politicians and businessmen, along with the dismantling of large companies involved in corruption scandals, such as Petrobras and Odebrecht.

The situation has been very trying for the country’s Jewish community of 110,000.

“Us Jews have experienced a fair share of suffering throughout history. Maybe we can help Brazil through these tough times,” says Bruno Laskowsky, president of the Jewish Federation of São Paulo.

São Paulo hold’s Brazil’s highest concentration of Jews. “We have been very welcome in Brazil and owe our loyalty to this nation, which, I am sure, will overcome this challenge sooner or later,” Laskowsky says.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

But while the community tries to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, it needs to maintain a degree of resilience — and Brazil’s middle class is watching its standard of living disappear before their eyes.

“I had a comfortable house and a car, a regular job. And now, I’m back living with my parents. My family helps me out, fortunately,” says Rochelle Rosensweig, an economist with an MBA in finance.

Rochelle Rosensweig has an MBA in finance, but is considering becoming an Uber driver to pay the bills due to Brazil's shrinking economy. (Courtesy)

Rosensweig now relies on a scholarship to keep her 12-year-old son enrolled in a Jewish school in São Paulo. Living off occasional freelance consulting gigs, she’s considering a second job as an Uber driver to guarantee a steadier income.

Despite her qualifications as a medical professional, psychologist Denise Lew also struggles to make ends meet as a civil servant.

Denise Lew and her son. (Courtesy)

“I can’t even afford to pay my son’s tuition. At the office, I have seen demand fall sharply in recent years because of the crisis. Nobody has any money,” she says.

Lew is broke, like many others. Interest rates in Brazil are sky high, causing debt to snowball. Both Rosensweig and Lew rely on assistance from Unibes, a Jewish charitable organization.

Many companies have shuttered or gone bankrupt in recent years. Pedestrians walking in São Paulo’s commercial centers are seeing a growing number of empty businesses. The real estate market is stalled, and vehicles are sold at large markdowns.

The economic downturn has also seen membership at Jewish community centers and clubs such as Hebraica gradually dwindle.

But Jewish families in Brazil have more serious concerns, such as ensuring a quality education for their children. Recently, the number of payment defaults in both Jewish and non-Jewish private schools has increased.

“Most Jewish schools receive philanthropic subsidies to keep them going,” says Laskowsky.

Rabbi David Weitman. director of Ten Yad. (Courtesy)

Demand in charities such as Ten Yad and Unibes in São Paulo has also increased. Both serve poor people of all backgrounds and are officially recognized as public services. Growing demand from members of the Jewish community is striking.

“The request for our meals and services is increasing by about 20% a year, and we have also realized a drop in the average age of our beneficiaries, meaning younger people are seeking us out,” says Ten Yad director Rabbi David Weitman.

Located in Bom Retiro, the old Jewish district of São Paulo, Ten Yad also offers a program that delivers food for people with no means of transportation.

“We are at the limit of our capacity,” Weitman tells The Times of Israel.

A century old, Unibes runs flea markets with used clothes and slightly damaged products in order to raise funds. When asked about the current situation in Brazil, the Unibes board preferred not to comment.

The situation in Rio

The situation in Rio de Janeiro is more dramatic. The Sugarloaf city is experiencing a crisis within a crisis. In addition to the swelling favelas, or slums, overflowing since the country’s capital moved to the city of Brasilia in the 1960s, Rio has been overrun with drug trafficking.

The city is commonly referred to as the “Gaza Strip” by Cariocas (Rio natives). Stray bullets hit the civilian population indiscriminately almost every day.

A shuttered storefront in Sao Paolo. (Luiz Roiz/Times of Israel)

In the reviled corruption rankings, former Rio governor Sérgio Cabral was among those leading the pack. He is now in jail. The “free for all” for public money tainted even the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games investments, and now, most of the region’s sports facilities are abandoned.

The flow of tourists has slowed to a trickle. Sixty-nine stores go out of business every day. Even next year’s cherished Carnival parade is threatened by a lack of funds. With no money to pay police officers and teachers, it’s a tough sell to finance rollicking.

Illustrative: A police officer patrols inside Rio de Janeiro International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Violence has led Carioca Jews to opt for emigration to Israel, says the Israeli consul in São Paulo, Dori Goren.

“Rio does not have a consulate,” says Goren, “so many Carioca Jews interested in aliyah come here [to São Paulo]. They report the fear of violence as one of the main reasons for emigrating.”

Voting with their feet

The Israeli consulate in São Paulo is making an extra effort to meet the overall increase in demand for emigration to Israel.

Israeli consul in Sao Paulo, Dori Goren. (Courtesy)

“It requires the translation of many documents and going through bureaucratic procedures. It’s not an easy job,” says Goren, who saw a similar situation in Argentina 15 years ago.

According to the Jewish Agency, the number of Brazilian emigrants is increasing. The end of 2015 saw a 77% increase in the number of olim (496) compared to 2014, which itself represented an increase of 39% (280) over the year prior (207).

2016 saw the arrival of 684 olim to Israel, 40% more than in 2015. And by May of this year, 346 new olim (29% more than in the same period in 2016) have already made Israel their new home.

“Israel will always open its arms to the Jews — even more now, when the unemployment rate is very low and the economy is thriving. Contrary to popular belief, Israel has a low violence rate, with only two annual deaths per 100,000 inhabitants,” says Goren.

The country of the future

The Brazilian crisis is part of the troubling mosaic created by neo-populism in Latin America.

Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Lula and Rousseff in Brazil, and Nestor Kirchner along with his wife Cristina in Argentina are among just a few examples of the troubling leadership there.

In Brazil, the economic teams working under Lula and Rousseff were betting on untapped oil resources to hide their corruption and poor governance. Unfortunately, they lost the bet, causing the country’s virtual collapse.

A used clothing flea market at the Unibes nonprofit in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Courtesy)

A large number of idealistic young Jews in Brazil were charmed by the prospect of a country led by a former labor union man like Lula. They imagined that he could reduce social inequality without falling into the traps that stymied the traditional left in the past. But reality played out much differently than they’d imagined.

After a brief warm-up period which saw the bolstering of millions of people who previously had no purchasing power, the system crashed.

Lack of sustainability, no investment in infrastructure, inability to reform an archaic system and poor management are some of the main issues at blame. And then, of course, there was the unheard level of corruption. The politicians fell back on demagoguery to save face.

Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil is a main commercial artery, but lately more and more stores are closing down. (Luiz Roiz/Times of Israel)

“The twilight of an idol,” commented analyst Hélio Schwartsman recently in an article published in one of the most traditional newspapers, Folha de S.Paulo. He was describing the feeling of those who once believed in the labor union leader.

Now, a divided Brazil is unsure who will govern the country tomorrow. An optimistic few still cling to an expression coined by Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, who took refuge from Nazism here: “Brazil, the country of the future.” Ironically, both the writer and his wife took their own lives before this future had a chance to arrive.

Brazil to extradite settler who fled Israel after killing Palestinian

The Brazilian Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to extradite an Israeli settler convicted of killing a Palestinian taxi driver in 2004, local media reported.

The decision came two years after Israel submitted an extradition request for Yehoshua Elitzur, who fled the country after being sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing Sael Jabara al-Shatiya.

Elitzur, 46, had been placed under house arrest in the Itamar settlement prior to entering prison, but managed to flee the country, first to Germany and later to Brazil.

After a decade-long manhunt, he was captured by Interpol and Sau Paulo authorities in June 2015.

Elitzur shot and killed Shatiya, from the Palestinian village of Salem, in September 2004 on the side of Route 557 near the Elon Moreh settlement.

According to the indictment against him, Elitzur flagged down Shatiya, 46, who was driving toward him in a van. Armed with an M-16, Elitzur stood in the middle of the road and demanded the Palestinian halt and get out of the car.

Poor road conditions prevented Shatiya from pulling over where Elitzur demanded, and he continued driving and began to pull over further down the road on the shoulder, at which point Elitzur shot and killed him.

Elitzur claimed that he had acted in self-defense, and that Shatiya was trying to run him off the road, but witnesses at the scene denied this claim.

He was initially accused of murder, but was convicted of manslaughter after prosecutors couldn’t prove he had intended to kill Shatiya.

Brazilian media reported that Elitzur entered the country using false identification.

Israeli intelligence and police representatives abroad assisted Interpol in its manhunt for Elitzur after putting out an international arrest warrant.

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.