Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has clarified remarks he made on Friday about the Holocaust which were vehemently condemned by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center and Israel's President Reuven Rivlin.
Talking at a meeting of evangelical clergymen in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Bolsonaro, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, added that steps must be taken to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever happened again.
“We can forgive, but we cannot forget. That quote is mine. Those that forget their past are sentenced not to have a future,” the Associated Press quoted him saying. “It is not in anyone’s position to determine who and if Holocaust crimes can be forgiven,” the statement said.
Rivlin also took to Twitter after Shabbat ended to take the Brazilian president to task.
“None can order forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people, and no interest will buy it,” Rivlin said on his Hebrew-language twitter account.
“Political leaders are responsible for shaping the future. Historians describe the past and research what happened. Neither one should stray into the territory of the other,” he added in English.
Early Sunday, Israeli Ambassador to Brazil Yossi Shelley published a clarification by Bolsonaro in which the president said, “When I visited Jerusalem, I wrote in the visitors’ book that those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it. So any other interpretation of my words is a matter of interest by those who want to put distance between me and my Jewish friends.
“Today, forgiveness is a personal matter, and I never intended to use the word [forgive] in a historical context such as the Holocaust, in which a brutal genocide was perpetrated against millions of innocent people,” Bolsonaro stated.
Shelley told Kan News that “At no point in his speech, the president showed disregard or indifference to the Jewish suffering. … But there are those who wish to arouse suspicion of a great friend of the people and the Israeli government.”
Bolsonaro’s comments come two weeks after he made a landmark visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem accompanied by Netanyahu.
The Brazilian leader’s visit signaled a tacit recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the holy site located in contested east Jerusalem. Bolsonaro’s visit to the site with Netanyahu made him the first foreign head of state to visit the site together with a senior Israeli official.
Wearing a kippah, Bolsonaro arrived at the Western Wall and placed a note in the cracks of the wall.
On Thursday, Bolsonaro congratulated Netanyahu for winning the Knesset election: “Bibi is a great leader and we will continue working together for the prosperity and for the peace of our people, based on our values and deep beliefs,” he said.