Bolsonaro Says Holocaust 'Forgiveness' Remark Wasn't Said in Historical Context

In a message shared on Israeli ambassador's Facebook page, Brazilian president claimed criticism of his comments intended 'to push me away from my Jewish friends'

File photo: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacts during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, April 2, 2019.
Gali Tibbon/AFP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose comments on "forgiving" the crimes of the Holocaust caused an uproar in Israel and the Jewish world over the weekend, said they were "never meant to be used in a historical context."

In a message to "the people and government of Israel" posted Sunday to the Facebook page of the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Yossi Shelley, Bolsonaro said "any other interpretation is only in the interest of those who want to push me away from my Jewish friends."

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Posting a clarification in Hebrew, Portuguese and English, Shelley argued that Bolsonaro showed no disrespect or indifference for Jewish suffering. "I hope that things will be made clear now, on such an important, sensitive issue for our people," the ambassador wrote.

He said Bolsonaro asked to share a quote he wrote in the guestbook at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which he visited in early April alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Those who forget their past are doomed to not have a future," calling the Holocaust "a cruel genocide."

During that visit, the Brazilian leader labelled Nazism a leftist ideology, a claim rejected by historians.

Israel's Holocaust memorial chastised Bolsonaro on Saturday for his Thursday comments at a meeting with evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro. "We disagree with the Brazilian president's statement that the Holocaust can be forgiven. It is not in anyone's position to determine who and if Holocaust crimes can be forgiven," the museum and official commemoration center said in a statement.

President Reuven Rivlin also weighed in, apparently referencing Bolsonaro's comment when he wrote on Twitter: "We will never extend our hand to those who deny the truth or attempt to erase it. Not individuals or organizations, not heads of parties and not heads of states. We will never forgive and never forget. No one will order the Jewish people's forgiveness and no interest will buy it."

Speaking on Israel's army radio, Shelley explained Sunday that Bolsonaro "said forgiveness is a personal thing," and argued it was "a figure of speech." According to him, the "giant" provocation around Bolsonaro's recent statement would have been justified "if only he had hinted at forgiveness," which the ambassador claimed he didn't.

"He said forgiveness is a personal matter, he said people can forgive, he personally does not," Shelley said.

"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. He was applauded by those who attended.

"Why is it used against him?" Shelley, a member of Netanyahu's ruling Likud party and an associate of the prime minister, added. "What are these attacks? Anyone who now says good things about Israel gets spat on in return? Where do you want to get to? Election is over, everyone can go back to their place and do their job. … I don't understand what everyone is shouting about."