The Jewish world is outraged this morning with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who apparently said he believes the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven, but not forgotten.
The far-right leader made the comments on Thursday night at a meeting with evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro.
“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.
Bolsonaro is probably not the most forgiving person around. He freely spews misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, and racist statements. However, he is a devout Christian and forgiveness is central to Christianity of all denominations. Forgiveness is not an ‘option’ as far as Christianity is concerned, it is actually a must. Forgiveness in Christianity is a manifestation of submission to Christ. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15).
I guess that those who subscribe to the Old Testament’s ‘eye for an eye’ paradigm see forgiveness as an existential threat or a sign of weakness. Otherwise it is hard to grasp the hostile reaction to Bolsonaro’s statement.
But Israelis have been forgiving the Germans for more than a while. Back in 1953 Israel signed a reparation agreement with the West German Government. According to the Agreement, West Germany was to “compensate” Israel “for losses in Jewish livelihood and property resulting from Nazi persecution.” The legendary Israeli diplomat Abba Eban coined the precious adage ‘there is no business like Shoa business’ in the light of the Israeli-German reparation agreement. Israel was happy to transform Germany’s guilt into hard cash, yet some may argue that forgiveness wasn’t part of the deal. As a matter of fact, more than seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, the Brazilian president is singled out by Jewish and Israeli outlets for stating the true meaning of Christian ethics; forgive but don’t forget. Be merciful, however learn not to repeat your past sins.
It is also important to mention that from time to time Israelis and Jewish leaders explore forgiveness when there are clear political or material gains. Back in 2015 we learned from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that it was the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haji Amin al-Husseini, who gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews. Needless to mention that Netanyahu’s claim was ludicrous and harshly criticised, but it practically confirmed that within certain political circumstances even Hitler could be vindicated as long as a Palestinian is there to take his place as the ‘ultimate evil.’
But Netanyahu was neither the first nor the last Israeli to forgive Hitler and the Germans. Back in 2014 we learned about Olim L’Berlin (Ascending to Berlin), a movement of young Israelis returning to the German capital because it was cheaper, cleaner and simply nicer. We would like the believe that Olim LeBerlin enthusiasts must have finally forgiven the Germans and even learned to love their new neighbours as much as they love themselves.
I am obviously not a supporter of the Brazilian president. However, I think that for us who dwell within the borders of the English-speaking empire, forgiveness and Christian values may as well be our last hope. I would have liked to think that president Trump and his dedicated Evangelist vice president Mike Pence take Jesus’s teachings into account when they consider whether to pardon Julian Assange for telling the truth. They should explore Christian mercifulness and reject the barbarian Old Testament vengeance that has made it into the true ugly face of America’s new century.