President Reuven Rivlin on Saturday rebuked his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro for saying this week that the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven, though not forgotten.
“No one will order the forgiveness of the Jewish people, and it can never be bought in the name of interests,” he said.
“What [the Nazis] did to us is etched into our memory, the memory of an ancient people,” Rivlin wrote on Twitter.
“We will never cooperate with those who deny the truth or try to erase it from memory — not by individuals and groups, not by party leaders and not by heads of state,” he wrote, the last being in apparent reference to Bolsonaro.
“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.”
Rivlin said the Jewish people would “always fight against anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” while calling on politicians not to wade into historically fraught matters. “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,” he said.
Rivlin’s tweet came after Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial museum, issued a statement earlier Saturday admonishing Bolsonaro.
“It is not the place of any person to determine whether the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven,” the museum said in a statement.
Also criticizing Bolsonaro was the chairman of Shem Olam, a Holocaust education group in Israel, who accused Israeli leaders of not speaking out vocally enough against anti-Semitism and distortions of the Holocaust.
“For years, the State of Israel has shown a dangerous forgiveness toward opinions, actions and leaders who gave a place of honor to the new anti-Semitism and normalized a forgiving attitude toward the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Abraham Krieger, according to the Ynet news site.
“The harsh words by the Brazilian president are a continuation of this. [We] must condemn his words, but also perform a a self-examination of how we got here,” Krieger added.
The far-right Brazilian 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.
Israel’s Ambassador to Brazil Yossi Shelley on Saturday defended Bolsonaro, writing on Facebook that “His words made clear his complete repudiation of the greatest genocide in history, which was the Holocaust. At no point in his speech did the president show disrespect or indifference to Jewish suffering.”
He added that “those who wish to arouse suspicion on the words of a great friend of the people and government of Israel will not succeed.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has made no comment on the matter so far.
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. “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.”
Netanyahu has eagerly embraced the newly-elected Bolsonaro, who has found common ground with the 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.
JTA contributed to this report.