President Reuven Rivlin and Yad Vashem took Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to task on Saturday for saying the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven, though not forgotten.
“We can forgive, but we cannot forget,” said Bolsonaro – a strong supporter of Israel who has reversed his country’s previously negative positions regarding Israel – at a meeting with Evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.
“Those that forget their past are sentenced not to have a future. We need to act so that the Holocaust will not repeat itself,” the Brazilian leader said.
Rivlin, in a reference to the biblical Amalek, who tormented the Israelites and whom the people of Israel are commanded in the Torah never to forget, said in a Twitter post that “Everything that Amalek has done to us is engraved in our memory, the memories of an ancient people.”
“We will never give a hand to those who deny the truth or try to cause it to be forgotten,” he said. “Not by individuals nor organizations, not by head of parties nor by heads of states. No one will enjoin the forgiveness of the Jewish people, and no interest will buy it.”
Rivlin said the Jewish people will always carry the banner of the struggle against antisemitism and racism.
“Diplomats have the responsibility to shape the future, and historians have the responsibility to describe the past and research history. It is forbidden for one to cross the boundaries of the other,” he wrote.
Yad Vashem spokeswoman Dana Weiler-Polak said nobody can decide “if it is possible to forgive the crimes of the Holocaust.”
“From the day of its founding, Yad Vashem has worked for the continuation of the memory and meaning [of the Holocaust] for the Jewish people and for mankind as a whole.”
Bolsonaro visited Yad Vashem earlier this month during his state visit here. Soon after he caused an uproar by saying “there is no doubt” that Nazism was a leftist movement.
His comments came after he was asked if he agreed with a claim by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, that Nazis were leftists.
“There is no doubt, right?” Bolsonaro said.
He went on to say that the Nazi party’s official name was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
The Foreign Ministry had no reaction to Bolsonaro’s comments.However, Yossi Shelly, Israel's ambassador to Brazil, defended Bolsonaro in a Portuguese Facebook post. Shelly said that Bolsonaro's comments were made during an “emotional” speech about his recent visit to Israel with “his fellow evangelicals.Shelly said these were “moving words about Israel, its eternal and indivisible capital Jerusalem,” and his visit to Yad Vashem.“His words made clear his complete repudiation of the greatest genocide in history, which was the Holocaust,” Shelly wrote. “At no point in his speech did the president show disrespect or indifference to Jewish suffering.”
Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.