Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire for saying that the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven.
“We can forgive, but we cannot forget,” Bolsonaro reportedly said at a meeting with Evangelical pastors in Rio de Janiero on Thursday night. “Those who forget the past are condemned to not have a future,” he added, according to the New York Times.
His comments drew applause from the pastors.
Bolsonaro, an ardently pro-Israel Christian, visited Israel two weeks ago, where he had a private tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
“It is not the place of any person to determine whether the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven,” Yad Vashem said in a statement sent to Israeli media on Saturday night. “From the day of its founding, Yad Vashem has worked for the continuation of the memory and meaning [of the Holocaust] for the Jewish people and for mankind as a whole.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was very direct in his criticism in a tweet. “What Amalek did to us inscribed in our memory, the memory of an ancient people. We will never aid those who deny the truth or those who wish to expunge our memory – not individuals or groups, not party leaders or prime ministers. We will never forgive and never forget. No-one will order the forgiveness of the Jewish people, and it can never be bought in the name of interests. The Jewish people will always fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Political leaders are responsible for shaping the future. Historians describe the past and research what happened. Neither should stray into the territory of the other.”
As of midnight on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who escorted Bolsonaro around Israel during his visit, had not responded to the Brazilian president’s remarks.
Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Bolsonaro said that Nazism was a leftist movement. The far-right leader was asked by reporters hours after his visit if he agreed with a recent claim by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, that Nazis were leftists.
“There is no doubt, right?” Bolsonaro replied. He went on to say that the Nazi party’s official name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, contains the word “socialist.”
Yad Vashem’s website follows the wide historical consensus that Nazism was the product of “the growth of radical right-wing groups in Germany.”
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.
Before his election, he was stabbed in the stomach in Juiz de Fora during a rally. The attacker told the police he was “on a mission from God.”
In the wake of the stabbing, Bolsonaro refused treatment at an Arab hospital commonly chosen by the country’s senior politicians, and was transferred to Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo. However the Jewish federation’s president sought to reduce tensions, saying: “Brazilian Arabs and Jews use both Albert Einstein and Syrian-Lebanese hospitals with total confidence and cordiality.
Bolsonaro has caused controversy with many of his views in the past, including outspoken opposition to LGBT rights and abortion, as well as being a critic of environmental regulation and drug liberalisation.
He has also voiced his support for the previous military dictatorship and claimed that the use of torture was “legitimate practice”, while having been accused of racism and misogyny also.