Days after causing an uproar among Israelis and others with his suggestion that the crimes of the Holocaust could be forgiven though not forgotten, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insisted on Sunday that his remarks had been misinterpreted.
Bolsonaro added that “any other interpretation is only in the interest of those who want to push me away from my Jewish friends.”
Bolsonaro made his comments about the Holocaust during a meeting with evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday night. “We can forgive, but we cannot forget,” he said, referring to the genocide that left six million European Jews dead, as well as others. “Those who forget their past are sentenced not to have a future.”
The newly elected president said that action needed to be taken to ensure that the atrocities of the Holocaust were never repeated, The Associated Press reported.
Bolsonaro’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Without referring to Bolsonaro by name, Rivlin wrote on Twitter on Saturday that, “We will never forgive and never forget.”
“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 said.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, also lambasted Bolsonaro’s comments ― telling Israeli newspaper Haaretz in a statement that it disagreed with the Brazilian leader’s suggestion that the Holocaust “can be forgiven.”
“It is not in anyone’s position to determine who and if Holocaust crimes can be forgiven,” officials with the Jerusalem-based the memorial said.
Bolsonaro visited Yad Vashem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month ― and caused a furor then with his remarks about Nazism. He labeled Nazism a leftist ideology, which, as The New York Times pointed out, contradicted the memorial’s own website which identifies Nazism as a right-wing movement.
In his Sunday statement, Bolsonaro recalled his visit to Yad Vashem and referred to a message he’d written in the memorial’s guestbook.
“I wrote in the guestbook of the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem: ‘Those who forget their past are doomed to not have a future,’” said Bolsonaro, who has allied himself with U.S. President Donald Trump. “Therefore, any other interpretation is only in the interest of those who want to push me away from my [J]ewish friends. Forgiveness is something personal, my speech was never meant to be used in a historical context, especially one where millions of innocent people were murdered in a cruel genocide.”
Bolsonaro, whose policies and political style have earned him the nickname the “Trump of the tropics,” is no stranger to controversy. He’s been called out for his inflammatory comments about women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. He’s also come under scrutiny for what’s been described as his “assault on environmental and Amazon protections.”
The museum addressed the controversy in a Twitter thread on Friday, saying it understood and shared the distress of troubled observers.
″[W]e are deeply concerned about the stated policy aims of the current Brazilian administration, and we are actively working to understand our options related to” the event hosted by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, museum officials wrote.