Brazil’s Bolsonaro says Holocaust crimes can be forgiven, but not forgotten

Controversial president speaks to evangelical leaders in Rio de Janeiro

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he believes the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven, but shouldn’t be forgotten.

The far-right leader made the comments Thursday night at a meeting with evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro. He was applauded by those who attended.

“We can forgive, but we cannot forget. That quote is mine. Those that forget their past are sentenced not to have a future,” Bolsonaro said, adding that actions are needed for the Holocaust not to be repeated.

On April 2, Bolsonaro visited the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During that visit, the Brazilian leader labeled Nazism a leftist ideology, a claim rejected by historians.

The far-right leader was asked on his visit to Israel if he agreed with the claim by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, that Nazis were leftists.

Jair Bolsonaro addresses the National Congress in Brasilia, during his swearing-in ceremony as Brazil’s new president, January 1, 2019. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

“There is no doubt, right?” Bolsonaro replied, according to Reuters.

It is widely accepted that Nazism was a far-right movement. Yad Vashem’s website says that a range of factors, including Germany’s defeat in World War I, “created fertile soil for the growth of radical right-wing groups in Germany, spawning entities such as the Nazi Party.”

Bolsonaro, a former army chief, has drawn condemnation for his disparaging remarks about gay people, women, indigenous groups and black people during his 28-year career as a Brazilian congressman.

Netanyahu has eagerly embraced the newly-elected Bolsonaro, who has found common ground with the Israeli prime minister’s right-wing government. His outspoken support for Israel has also played well to his evangelical base.

Netanyahu traveled to Brazil earlier in the year for Bolsanaro’s inauguration and the Brazilian leader then came to Israel in a high-profile visit just days before Israel’s elections, in a move many said was designed to bolster Netanyahu’s election chances.

Netanyahu and Bolsonaro signed several agreements pledging defense, cyber security and police cooperation between their countries.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touch the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 1, 2019 (Menahem KAHANA / POOL / AFP)

During his visit to Israel, Bolsanaro announced Brazil’s decision to open a trade office in Jerusalem. Bolsonaro has previously pledged to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, but the relocation appears to be on hold.

Bolsanaro visited the Western Wall accompanied by Netanyahu, becoming the first foreign head of state to visit the site together with a senior Israeli official.

His unprecedented step could be seen as a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty over that location in Jerusalem’s Old City, which the international community generally considers occupied Palestinian territory. The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

JTA contributed to this report

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