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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro angers Israel by saying Holocaust can be forgiven

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the Brazilian leader for his remarks

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave to the press during a visit to the Western wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 1, 2019. AFP
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave to the press during a visit to the Western wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 1, 2019. AFP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been rebuked by Israel after saying that the Nazi genocide of the Jews during the Second World War could be forgiven.

The far-right Mr Bolsonaro made a solidarity visit to Israel last month during which he raised eyebrows by asserting, after a tour of the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, that the Nazis had been "leftists".

Addressing a group of Brazilian evangelicals on Thursday, Mr Bolsonaro said: "We can forgive but we can't forget. That's my phrase. Those who forget their past are condemned not to have a future."

There was no immediate response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has cultivated ties with Mr Bolsonaro.

But President Reuven Rivlin, whose role in Israel is largely ceremonial, wrote on Twitter: "Whether they be individuals or organisations, party heads or heads of state, no one will ordain the Jewish people's forgiveness, nor can this be obtained through any interest."

Yad Vashem said in a separate statement: "It is no one's place to decide who can be forgiven and whether there should be forgiveness for the crimes of the Holocaust."

The Brazilian leader retreated on his remarks on Sunday, insisting that he had been misinterpreted.

“My speech was never meant to be used in a historical context,” the far-right leader said in a statement posted on the Facebook page of Yossi Shelley, Israel’s ambassador to Brazil.

He said that “any other interpretation is only in the interest of those who want to push me away from my Jewish friends”.

Mr Bolsonaro had angered Palestinians with his visit to Israel, where he opened a trade office in Jerusalem, stopping short of recognising the city as Israel’s capital.

He also became the first statesman to visit the Western Wall, the closest Jews can pray to the Haram Al Sharif, alongside a sitting Israeli prime minister in history.

Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official, called for Arab countries to retaliate against Brazil for Mr Bolsonaro’s actions, comparing him to US President Donald Trump.

“Bolsonaro finds himself on the right wing of life that makes him closer to Netanyahu and to Mr Trump," Mr Shaath said on the day of the visit.

"That’s not how things should be calculated between Brazil and the Arab world.

“What we expect our Arab brothers to do is to start with some reproach, some reprimand, and tell them it is contrary to our relationship.”

In trying to please his evangelical base, Mr Bolsonaro has risked souring relations in the Arab world, particularly in commerce, because some Arab states are major importers of Brazilian meat.

He declined to visit the Palestinian Authority, which operates limited self rule in the occupied West Bank and is led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Updated: April 16, 2019 03:49 AM

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